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There are many pieces of evidence which may lead sociologists such as
Bryan Wilson to conclude that modernity brings with it a decline in
the importance of religion. One example is that statistical evidence
shows that there has been a decline in the amount of people attending
church. The 19851 census showed that approximately 40% of the
population attended church. By 1990 this has dropped to 10%.
Another example could be that the laws against Sunday trading have
been substantially modified. As many businesses now trade on a Sunday,
which has lead people to choose or be forced to work and earn money
rather than to attend church.
The quote that “the world is bubbling with religious passions” could
lead to much debate. Although statistic evidence shows that there has
been a decline in church attendance, it can be argued that people who
attend church are not necessarily practising religious belief and
those who do believe may not see the need to attend . Religion is a
private experience for many and consequently cannot be reliably or
scientifically measured, as said by Bellah.
There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of sects, cults
and new religious movements in the later twentieth century. According
to Greeley and Nelson the growth of new religious indicates that
society is undergoing a religious revival, and not a decline and that
there are more people than ever who have religious beliefs.
There has also been an increase in the membership of non-Trinitarian
religions in the UK. Religious broadcasting also continues to be
popular, with large audiences watching programmes such as songs of
praise. Broadsheet newspapers have columns developed to religious
There are many sociologists who do believe that secularisation has
taken place in modern society. Wilson conclude there has been a
decrease in the amount of people attending church and the amount of
wedding, christening etc taking place at church, as well as the rising
divorce rate and the number of children born outside of marriage.
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In modern day society religion is rarely spoken about amongst the
youth and has a great deal of ‘stigma’ attached to children going to
school which can often lead to bullying, if we were to go back 30 –40
years ago this would of ceased to exist.
In conclusion, I feel that Bella’s argument is most valid; concluding
that modern society religion has not disappeared it has simply been
privatised. In a highly individualistic society, religion has become
something that is restricted to private life; more people are able to
practice their religious beliefs without necessarily attending church.
However there are also many points, which should be taking into
account for example that there has also been a decline in the amount
of religious ceremonies taking place at church as well as the ‘stigma’
attached to young children attending church.
The debate to whether religion is a way in which some social groups
express their unity and the fact that religion can also contribute to
social divisions and social conflict is a great one.
Functionalists believe that religion ‘generates an agreed set of
values, which operates to ‘hold society together. Durkheim believed
that religion creates stability, identity and a ‘collective
consciousness’. When individuals are able to share in the same
religious rituals, ceremonies and beliefs, it creates unity in the
social group. Malinowski also believed that religion created a sense
of identity, he stated that religion helped individuals and societies
to deal with the torment life opens them up to, and helped them to
deal with it.
This particular view can be argued though as the strength of some
religions and their beliefs have not just maintained social stability
but have also created conflict between different religious groups,
which has threatened social stability. This view that religion acts to
social divisions and social conflict is lead by the view of Marxists
They believe that there are ‘dysfunctional aspects to religion, they
see religion as being an integral part of the way a ruling class
divides and rules subordinate classes. So therefore they view religion
as unable to hold society together for the benefit of all in society
but in the interests of a small ruling class.
Feminists add to the debate to say that religion contribute to the
creation of conflict and division through patriarchal ideology, and
example of their sis that the Catholic church’s teachings on abortion
and contraception gear women towards having a so called ‘domestic
role’, something which feminists see as a major social control over
women. There are also mainly male figures who are of religious places
It is clear to say that there can be no defined explanation as to
whether or not religion allows social groups to express their unity or
allows social conflict to occur. In many aspects religion can be seen
as a form of bringing society together, for example attending church
allows members to share their beliefs and values with one another.
However many religions show conflict, for example the ruling class
having superior values to the subordinate classes, leading a ‘false