April 16, 2012 The Secularisation Thesis

The ideological conflict between the superpowers reflected the essence of their struggle to present their respective governing principles for society and politics as facilitating the best social order of which man is capable. The global nature of their rivalry required powerful universal symbols, for which religion was by far the best provider – a factor that significantly advantaged the United States. The role of religion in the Cold War has but recently received serious scholarly attention. () The reason for its neglect can partly be accounted for by the influence of the 'secularisation thesis'. In his seminal 1969 book, , sociologist Peter Berger described the supposed decline in the importance of religion as 'a global phenomenon of modern societies' that becomes 'world-wide in the course of westernisation and modernisation'. () Following substantial empirical work, the 'secularisation thesis' has been rejected by sociologists. Berger himself now states not only that his thesis was 'essentially mistaken', but that religion may in fact be more important than ever. ()

Secularisation is the decline in the influence of religion. ‘Religion’ can be defined in two ways:

Conclusions about secularisation will also be influenced by where sociologists are looking at it. Lots of the evidence in the UK and Western Europe might be seen as supporting the secularisation thesis (depending on how we define secularisation) but the evidence is much less clear in the USA and religion can be seen as dominating society in some parts of the world. It should also be remembered that certain groups within society are more religious than others (e.g. minority ethnic groups in the UK), which can raise further questions about the extent of secularisation in the UK.


What is the secularisation thesis

Secularisation is the decline in the influence of religion. ‘Religion’ can be defined in two ways:

Bruce identifies two counter-trends that seem to go against secularisation theory because they are associated with higher than average levels of religious participation. Cultural defence is where religion provides a focal point for the defence of national, ethnic, local or group identity in a struggle against an external force such as a hostile foreign power. Examples include the popularity of Catholicism in Poland before the fall of communism and the resurgence of Islam before the revolution in Iran in 1979. Cultural transition is where religion provides support and a sense of community for ethnic groups such as migrants to a different country and culture. Herberg describes this in his study of religion and immigration to the USA and religion could be said to have performed similar functions for Irish, African Caribbean, Muslim, Hindu and other migrants to the UK.