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Secularization Steve Bruce University of Aberdeen Secularization. Decline in: 1. power of religious institutions; 2. popularity involvement in religious institutions and activities; 3. plausibility of religious beliefs. Power of Religious Institutions;.

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Secularization Steve Bruce University of Aberdeen

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secularization steve bruce university of aberdeen s bruce@abdn ac uk
SecularizationSteve BruceUniversity of


Decline in:

1. power of religious institutions;

2. popularity involvement in religious institutions and activities;

3. plausibility of religious beliefs.

power of religious institutions

Power of Religious Institutions;

Impotence of churches re blasphemy, social mores (gambling, sexuality eg), political agendas, sabbatarianism;

Absence of clerical representation in Scots Parliament and Welsh Assembly;

House of Lords reform.

scottish church censuses 1984 1994 2002


Decline 1984-1994: 19% in 10 years.

Decline 1994 - 2002: 18 % in 8 years.

So rate of decline of church attendance in Scotland is accelerating.

The same is also true in England.

the 2001census problem

The 2001Census Problem

In the 2001 census nearly 72 per cent of people in England and Wales claimed to be Christians.

Much higher than the proportion in the British Social Attitudes survey and other national studies.

More English people than Scots claimed to be Christian despite actual involvement being higher in Scotland!

explanation 1 context

Explanation 1: Context

England has higher non-Christian population than Scotland.

England had series of ‘Muslim’ riots.

Hence English have better reason than Scots to claim ‘Christian’ as an ‘ethnic’ label.

explanation 2 q order

Explanation 2: Q. order

The Censuses in England-Wales and Scotland did not ask questions in the same order.

For England-Wales religion question immediately followed those on ethnicity; seemed to be a supplementary question on the same topic

explanation 3 q wording

Explanation 3: Q. wording

The England-Wales form asked ‘What is your religion?’ and offered a single ‘Christian’ category to go with Muslim, Hindu, etc.

The Scottish form asked ‘What religion, religious denomination or body were you brought up in’ and gave the choices: None, Church of Scotland, RC and Christian (other) before Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim etc.

our guess

Our Guess

As one old lady friend put it:

‘I put down C of E because I wanted to say that this is a Christian country’

plausibility of religious beliefs

Plausibility of Religious Beliefs

Some observers (Grace Davie eg and many church leaders) try to remain optimistic by arguing that we remain ‘really’ religious despite lack of involvement in religious activities and institutions.

Test with British Social Attitudes data:

alternative spiritualities

Alternative Spiritualities

Is there evidence that an alternative ‘New Age’ world is servicing enduring demand for some form of spirituality?

Evidence from Scottish Social Attitudes Survey:

evidence from kendal survey paul heelas and linda woodhead

Evidence from Kendal Survey:Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead

Found 95 practitioners of holistic spiritual activities: 63 different groups and 63 on a one-to-one basis.

Total of 600 people were involved in typical week: 1.6 per cent of pop. of Kendal and environs.

Most popular are physical therapy: massage, yoga, aromatherapy

Practitioners think they are offering spirituality but 45% of customers and group members see it as mundane.

Hence, about 0.9 per cent of the population is involved with holistic spiritual practices.

attitudes to religion

Attitudes to Religion

Scottish survey shows people personally indifferent but in theory positive towards religion:

40% in favour of daily school prayers;

40% in favour of TV companies being required to air religious programmes.

Probably reflects idea that religion produces morality and good behaviour.

explaining secularization

Explaining Secularization

Not anti-religious.

Combination of individualism (no one tells me what to believe) and diversity (so many different religions cannot all be true; so none is really true).

responses to islamic fundamentalism

Responses to Islamic Fundamentalism

In 1800s Britain so consensually Protestant that reaction to Irish immigrants was religious: anti-Catholicism.

Now anti-immigrant and chauvinist sentiment focuses on putative social vices. BNP does not accuse Muslims of heresy. UKIP does not play religion card.


Threat of Islamic fundamentalism (like the Northern Ireland conflict) taken not as proof of evils of a particular religion but as proof that religion in public and religion taken too seriously are a threat to social order and stability.

Hence greater reluctance to approve of orthodox religion.