The sample essay on Examples Of Human Sciences deals with a framework of research-based facts, approaches, and arguments concerning this theme. To see the essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion, read on.
Is religion really in decline in the west or is it merely changing?
Seminal social theorists predicted the decline of religion in the modern era. It was widely postulated that there would be a transformation from a society characterised by strong religious values towards one, driven by secular ideology.
The driving force in this transformation was to be the modernization and rationalization that accompanied the renaissance and the industrial revolution. Bruce (2002) suggested that science and the accompanying principles undermined the position of religion: it reduced the roles it played in wider society. From his perspective the more science progressed, religion simultaneously regressed. This essay will consider theoretical perspectives surrounding the evolution of religiosity in the west, and will determine the extent to which religion is declining based on statistical evidence.
The word religion is often used without ascribing conscious thought to its definition. How we define religion is subject to debate and is largely dependant on the discipline one is defining it for. In sociology, it can be defined substantively, or functionally. Substantive definitions focus on characteristics of the content – for example, a belief in a supernatural being. Functional definitions focus instead, on the utility or the effect that religion has on the individual or group. The disparity between definitions is a large problem in assessing secularization: if we can’t adequately and consistently define the phenomenon, it becomes difficult to assess if it is changing.
The pre-Industrial west can be characterised as deeply religious. According to Bruce (2002), nearly all members of society were familiar with religious teachings. Individuals mostly turned to the church, in illness, marriage, death and other major life changing occurrences. However, as the western world began to industrialize, we saw an increasingly secular society. This pattern is documented in the social surveys of the 20th century. There was a decline in church attendance, religious ceremonies and indices of belief. According to Voas (2003) church attendance in the UK has declined by 50% since the middle of the 19th century. Within the Secularization debate, scholars have exercised a variety of explanations for this, but broadly they manifest within the concepts of rationalism and modernity.
One idea that explained the rise of rationalism and science was set out by Max Weber in the ‘Protestant ethic and the sprit of capitalism’. Here it was suggested that the age of enlightenment generated and orchestrated a change in the way individuals viewed the world. Rationalism was thought to have rendered the central claims of the world religions as unsubstantiable and therefore questionable. Science began to literally breakdown the vestiges of religious dogma. For example, Darwin’s theory of evolution challenged the evangelical understanding proposed in the book of Genesis.
Weber argued that religion itself, could actually lead people to capitalism. He made a distinction between two types of asceticism, one of which, only began to develop after the protestant revolution. Weber suggested that prior to this, ‘otherworldly-asceticism’ was the only to exist, and predominantly among the very pious in society. Monks often lived in isolation in monasteries to remove themselves from societal temptations. Martin Luther, a key initiator of the protestant revolution, argued that hard work and good performance worked to glorify the individual in the light of God. Protestantism began to discourage the idea that individuals could simply admit to their sins in order to achieve absolution. An anxiety therefore began to build amongst particular Protestants. For instance, Calvinism taught predestination, which suggested that God had already decided each person’s fate after death. Weber argues that this anxiety and pressure, actually led people to develop a ‘this-world- asceticism’. Individuals began to invest more of their time and energy on work, in order to avoid the temptations of sin. Success to some was considered an indication of salvation. A ‘protestant-work-ethic’ evolved and many argue resulted in the relatively premature development of capitalist ideology in particular countries. Weber comments that capitalism undermined religious commitments as it shifted the focus away from religiosity as a whole.
Bruce (2002) postulated that modernization resulted in structural specialisation/ differentiation. This means that as society began to modernise, institutions and roles began to become specialised. Religion used to hold a monopoly on several social functions, which include education, health care, and welfare assistance. Modernity and industrial growth generated income that could be invested in the specific needs of society, outside of religious influence. Differentiation resulted in the creation of more diverse work opportunities, which undermined the feudal nature of preceding institutions. The additional working opportunities filled in the gap between the gentry and the working classes. An egalitarian mentality developed, which according to Bruce (2002) made hereditary inequalities and hierarchies more difficult to sustain.
The reformation worked to encourage individualism, autonomy and individual thought (Martin 1978). Religion or Beliefs systems differ in their ability to cater for varying interpretations. For instance, some religions may claim a monopoly on a singular truth, whilst others may allow for slight variations. Individuals for the first time began to challenge the ‘truths’ proposed by belief systems. Particular religious institutions, which failed to accommodate or adequately address certain concerns, were left vulnerable to schism, and reduced membership. It became possible for individuals to maintain and perhaps even improve their social status. Particular roles in society began to shift in their degrees of power. The clergy for example, could be seen in some ways to posses a similar social status to a doctor, irrespective of the belief system to which the doctor belonged.
Societalization is a term coined by (Wilson 1982) which describes the transition from numerous small close-knit communities to larger industrialized cities. This community to society transition, perpetuated by the industrial revolution, had several implications to religion. Firstly, it became very difficult for a religion to maintain a single moral belief system. Larger cities allow for smaller competing belief systems to develop and grow. Larger cities also carried with them a larger stress profile: people had to work longer hours to sustain continual development. A larger and more successful economy necessitated the evolution of a new culture: driven by law, communication, trust, science, and less by religion.
An improvement in education accompanied economic growth. With an improvement in literacy, a larger cohort was able to address religious questions themselves by reading holy texts. Prior to this, there was reliance, and almost a passive acceptance of religious teachings administered by religious leaders. Individuals were able to draw their own conclusions. The bible was also translated in a variety of languages, which increased access. Personal interpretations and conclusions resulted in increased Schisms and sect formations. The rising working class moved forward to more democratic and represented religions like the Baptists and Presbyterians.
The effects of increased economic growth can be said to reduce religious significance for other reasons likewise. According to Durkheim, in the Elementary forms of religious life (1912), religion in itself is not simply a set of beliefs and ideas (as assumed by Weber), but it also incorporates a entire systems of actions that involve formal rituals and ceremonies. He suggested that these systems of actions are important because they served a functional purpose of sustaining social solidarity, order, and cohesion. He proposed that religion serves to manage individuals in times of crisis. For instance, in death the church offers a funeral service that helps to prevent breakdown. The poor often also found solace in religion in its promise of a better after life. However, as society became more affluent, and technology progressed more middle class jobs became available and therefore individuals felt less of a need to be comforted by a better life in heaven. Similarly, as health care improved sudden and unfortunate deaths became less common, so individuals turned to the church less for comfort.