The word ‘secular’ means ‘non-religious’ and the secularisation thesis is simply the suggestion that religion and religious beliefs are of declining importance both in society and for the individual. This subject has intrigued me because I am curious to find out:
* To what extent does it claim that if people do not attend church regularly, it indicates a reduction in religiosity
* Why these claims have been put forward by certain sociologists
* Why no one has found an answer to whether or not religion is in decline
* Why the evidence found by sociologists contradict each others findings
The relevant areas of secularisation can be examined in terms of three aspects:
* Religious thinking-the influence of religion on people’s beliefs and values
* Religious practice-such as the levels of church membership and church attendance
* Religious institutions-the extent to which churches and other religious institutions have maintained their social influence and wealth
The main difficulty with deciding whether secularisation has taken place is how religion and religious belief are defined and measured.
* Is church attendance a good way of measuring how much religious belief there is in society?
* Does going to church mean you really believe in God?
* Can you be religious without attending religious ceremonies?
All the above problems suggest that being part of something cannot determine the way you are feeling.
I believe this project will emphasise the fact that statistics cannot measure the fact that someone is religious. It merely indicates what is happening on the outside not what is in the inside.
One of the most influential supporters of the secularisation thesis is Bryan Wilson who defines secularisation as:
“The process whereby religious thinking, practice and institutions lose their social significance”
He suggests that this is mainly reflected statistically in declining church attendance and membership but he also argues that religion is losing influence over public life and affairs. Wilson mainly focuses on statistical evidence relating to religious institutions and their activity. These will be some of the key concepts I will be investigating further.
What is the evidence for secularisation?
The strongest evidence for secularisation in Britain comes from church-attendance statistics according to the 1851 Census approximately 40% of the population attended church. By 1950 this had dropped to 20% and was less than 7.5% in 2000.
In relation to my aim I will be looking at how the statistics favour religiosity in individuals according to religious institutions. And why these statistics indicate a drop in church attendance means a drop in religiosity.
Hamilton also points out that fewer people are church members. Critics of the secularisation thesis point to the growth of new churches and the fact that ethnic-minority churches have pretty much held their own. However, it is clear that the big organisations such as the Church of England and the Catholic Church have declined badly, whereas those that have stayed stable or grown are the smaller ones.
In relation to my aim I will be looking at how the evidence given by sociologists explains how religious thinking is influenced by membership at a church and why sociologists reckon that membership at a church means that less people are interested in religion.
Brierley points out the gross figures of decline hide a trend even more worrying for the future of Christianity in Britain: age bias. He looked at English surveys (1979, 1989, 1999) he estimates the age profile of the various groups of denominations (exception of Pentecostal churches) he notes that church-goers are considerably older that non-churchgoers.
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