Tag Archive | Secularisation

The Postsecular in International Politics (Conference)

I would totally be attending this conference if I weren’t on my way to present at another conference in the US. For those in the UK, it will definitely be worth checking out!

Welcome to the blog for the International ESRC-sponsored conference, The Postsecular in International Politics, taking place at the University of Sussex on 27th-28th October 2011. The Postsecular in International Politics will bring together a range of internationally renowned scholars. Speakers  include: Joseph Camilleri, Stephen Chan, Fred Dallmayr, Richard Falk, Jeff Haynes, Mustapha Pasha, Tariq Ramadan, Nick Rengger, Richard Sakwa,  Ole Wæve … Read More

via The Postsecular in International Politics

Qualitative Methods for Nonreligion Studies

For anyone vaguely interested, I have another publication. It’s freely available to download. If you are interested in the wide variety of research being currently conducted into Nonreligion from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives, then I suggest you give it a look.

Report: Qualitative Methods (NSRN Methods for Nonreligion and Secularity Series)  PPSIS, University of Cambridge, 14 December 2011

I have also added this paper, and another, to my recently created Academia.edu page.

Movement Humanism and Deconversion from Christianity

I just wanted to draw attention to two interesting articles that I have read this morning, although I do not have time to respond.

Firstly, R Joseph Hoffman’s piece on “Movement Humanism“. A few choice quotations would be:

George Bernard Shaw once drunkenly said that “the conversion of a savage to Christianity is the conversion of Christianity to savagery.” (Shame on him for not knowing that he was impugning the Irish as well as first century Palestinian Jews.) It is true, in the same sense, however, that the theft of the name “humanism” by atheists who think it has a nice ring is the diminution of a major chapter in the history of human learning to a press release.


Movement humanism as it has evolved is not really humanism. Or rather, it is a kind of parody of humanism. A better name for it would be Not-Godism. It’s what you get when you knock at the heavenly gate and no one is home.

It’s a rant of disappointment camouflaged by a tributary note to science for having made the discovery of the great Nonbeing possible. It’s structured outrage towards the institutions that have perpetuated belief and promises that (as many atheists sincerely believe) the churches have known to be empty all along.

At its best, it is a demand for honesty which, for lack of a unified response from “religion,” seems to require commando tactics.

The other is a freely accessible, academic article from the Journal of Religion and Society, entitled “Explaining Deconversion from Christianity” by Bradley R. E. Wright, Dina Giovanelli, Emily G. Dolan, and Mark Evan Edwards. The passages which particularly struck me were:

It is not clear how well these intellectual and moral concerns map on to a rational choice perspective on religion. One could argue that they are implicitly linked to costs and benefits; for example, the forced acceptance of non-scientific ideas might pose a psychological cost. Likewise, the perceived injustice of hell might cause emotional distress. Nonetheless, in discussing these concerns, the [deconverts] focused on issues of moral right and wrong rather than cost and benefits. They write as “truth-seekers” more than “benefit-optimizers,” taking perhaps more of a philosophical approach, rather than economic, to religion.


Christians are not usually drawn to other belief systems; rather they are put off by the Christian God. They are not lured away by non-believers; rather they are frustrated with believers. Deconversion, therefore, usually represents more of a desire to leave Christianity than an attraction to its alternatives.

I hope you take the time to read the full articles if you seem at all interested.

“Understanding Secularism” to be Focus of New Trinity College Website

“Understanding Secularism” to be Focus of New Trinity College Website

Site will facilitate the Dissemination of Course Materials and Research  

 HARTFORD, CT, May 13, 2011 – The Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) at Trinity College today launched a new Website, Understanding Secularism (www.understandingsecularism.org). Its aim is to provide a better understanding of the roles and forms of secularism around the world by disseminating material to educators, researchers, students, and interested members of the public.

 The new website is designed to be a teaching and learning resource. It will offer diverse media and materials, including academic course syllabi, articles, bibliographies, research reports, and essays by ISSSC-affiliated scholars and others. Audio-visual and photographic material will help enliven and elucidate the study of secularism.

 Course outlines and syllabi are varied, ranging from “Liberty of Conscience and the Creation of Secular Society” to “The Dao of Secularism: Political Transformation and Secular Values in 20th Century Asia.”  The articles and reports are equally diverse, and cover such topics as “High School Students’ Opinions about Science Education,” “Evolution in Nature and Society,” and “Anxiety in the Age of Reason.”

 Algeria, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Great Britain, Greece, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Spain, Turkey and the United States are among the countries that have material devoted to them.

 “Understanding Secularism is all about providing objective information,” said ISSSC Director Barry A. Kosmin. “Our aim is understanding, critical analysis, and education – not advocacy.”

 Continuing, Kosmin said, “The topic of secularism spans many areas of study and so requires an interdisciplinary approach. Because of this, the site will take a cross-cultural approach that offers a wide range of scholarly and ideological perspectives. The idea is to make the website a vital forum for the exchange of knowledge and ideas among educators, researchers, journalists, policy makers, and concerned citizens.”

 Around the world, secularism is in the news. Whether it is the decline of organized religion in Europe, cultural battles over reproduction and the family in Latin America, or political change in the Middle East, secularism plays a central role in the discussion. It is a perennial issue in India, where the term is used to refer to ideological tolerance and religion-state separation.

 In the United States, the percentage of secular American adults (as indicated by those who reported no religious identification) almost doubled from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008, or from 14 to 34 million people.

 Yet, despite the importance of secularism in contemporary discourse and society, there has been no single place to go for information about it. Understanding Secularism will be that place.

 The ISSSC, which has a global research agenda and strong international ties, was established in 2005 to advance understanding of the roles played by secular values and institutions in contemporary societies. Nonpartisan and multidisciplinary, the ISSSC conducts research, helps develop course curricula, and serves as an educational forum through lectures, seminars, and conferences.

Via the Nonrelgion and Secularity Research Network.

Cathedral Congregations Continue to Grow?

According to the Church of England, Cathedral congregations have continued to grow. Although I accept that I am naturally inclined to disagree with this statement, my initial reaction from recent experiences at Lincoln Cathedral and Westminster Abbey is that a lot of tourists pitch up to schedules services to avoid having to pay the exorbitant entrance fees that you have to pay at other times…

I suggest you read the full article:

Cathedral congregations continue to grow

Attendance levels at regular weekly services in Church of England cathedrals have increased significantly again this year, by 7%, say thelatest statistics from the Archbishops’ Council’s Research and Statistics Unit.

Since the turn of the millennium, they have steadily grown by a total of 37%, which is about 4% on average each year. At Sunday services alone, 15,800 adults and 3,100 children and young people are usually present while over the whole week the figures rise (by 73%) to 27,400 and 7,600 respectively. Westminster Abbey adds, on average, 1,800 people each week to these numbers.

Cardinal O’Brien Fostering Good Relations with our Enemies

I just feel that the following illustration of Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s ‘on-going commitment to foster good inter-faith relations in Edinburgh and Scotland’ seems to stand in somewhat stark contrast to his call yesterday for Christians to ‘be united in their common awareness of the enemies of the Christian faith in our country’… the aggressive secularists.

I’m not going to comment on this. I have many conflicting opinions on inter-faith work, on aggressive secularism, and on certain tenets of the Catholic tradition…

It seems that I, like Cardinal O’Brien, am a very conflicted individual.

Religious Age, Period and Cohort Effects

I wish I had had this to hand when I wrote my post on: Do people become more religious with age? Or is religion aging with the population?

An excellent summary of the various potential explanations, by David Voas:

“Imagine that a prophet comes to town and persuades a significant number of people, young and old, to convert to a new faith. The change is rapid and potentially enduring. Such a shift is an example of a ‘period’ effect, because it is specific to one particular point in history.

            Imagine next that as children emerge into adulthood they adopt distinctive creeds and forms of religious behaviour, much as they do with music and slang. Society would alter even if no individual changed once he or she reached maturity because older people would gradually be replaced by younger people who did things differently. Here we have a ‘cohort’ effect: people who were born around the same time (or were at school together, or fought in the same war) share certain characteristics by virtue of their common formative experience.

            Finally, imagine that people tend to have little interest in religion in youth but gradually become more religious with age. This pattern would be an ‘age’ effect. Perhaps the change occurs on reaching key stages in life, such as marrying and having children, or maybe it results from an awareness of personal mortality or an evolution in priorities. In this instance every single individual might change without society changing at all, because at any point one would always find the same mix of old and young, more or less involved with religion.”


Voas, David. 2010. Explaining Change over Time in Religious Involvement. In Religion and Youth, ed. Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion, 25-32. Surrey: Ashgate, p. 25.

The Effects of ‘Partying’ on Religiosity

This site is worth a browse… even just for its sheer craziness:


I don’t doubt the value of some of the research, or the credentials of the scholars involved… but I couldn’t help but laugh when I read the following:

“Students tend to become more religiously skeptical during college if they engage in a good deal of partying, watch a lot of television, participate in a study abroad program, or if their parents go through a separation or divorce. Religious skepticism also tends to increase if the student attends a college where the student body is highly liberal politically.”

Religious parents be warned, eh?

The Church of England in Decline?

Just read the following and had to share it…

Will the last person to leave the Church of England please turn out the lights

The Church of England is an institution in decline, with fewer worshippers than ever and dissent in its ranks. Could salvation come in the form of severing its ties with the State?

By Adrian Hamilton
Monday, 18 April 2011 (The Independent)

As the faithful look forward to Easter and the Archbishop of Canterbury prepares to officiate at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, it may seem inappropriate to be discussing the future of his Church. But this Easter week, I can’t help feeling – more than ever – that the Church of England will not survive my children’s lifetime and quite possibly not even my own.

It’s not the archaism of state occasions that makes me doubt the relevance of the CofE, nor the sight this Lent of a dozen or more clergy crossing the floor to join the Roman Catholics that has made me despair of its future. Nor is it the statistics showing an ever-diminishing number of English attending their services, although these are bad enough. It’s not even the spectacle of the Church wrapping itself in knots around the issues of ordaining women and gay bishops.

These are certainly signals of an institution in decline; a community turning in on itself as its relevance diminishes. But the Church has been here before and revived.

Read more here.

Do people become more religious with age? Or is religion aging with the population?

I have just read the article “Longer life expectancy ‘puts people off religion’” on the BBC Website, and had a few comments to make…

The first point I would make is about is ‘fear of death’ thing. According to Dr Elissaios Papyrakis, of the University of East Anglia:

“We show that higher life expectancy discounts expected benefits in the afterlife and is therefore likely to lead to postponement of religiosity, without necessarily jeopardising benefits in the afterlife.

I would direct readers particularly to the work of Phil Zuckerman in Scandinavia. It is a well documented fact that the ‘religious’ fear death more than the nonreligous (although I suppose for religious here one should read ‘Abrahamic faiths’). I guess it stems from the fact that a definite conception of an afterlife entails the possibility of eternal punishment, or at least some sort of judgement, and no matter how sure one is that one has led a good life (by whatever standard this is being judged) there is going to be a certain amount of fear there. So maybe this correlation is correct… but it might just mean that those who fear death because they already hold to some sort of ‘religious’ conception of an afterlife will be the ones who turn to religion as they become older…

The article continues:

Dr Papyrakis said religious organisations should be prepared to accept and attract a “greying church”, with membership skewed towards the older generation, particularly in countries like the UK where life expectancy is high.

To this I would add that according to Samuel Bagg and David Voas

“religious parents in Britain have an approximately 50 percent chance of transmitting their affiliation, belief, and practice on to their children, giving religion [Christianity] a “half-life” of one generation”

From Samuel Bagg and David Voas, “The Triumph of Indifference: Irreligion in British Society,” in Atheism and Secularity – Volume 2: Global Expressions, ed. Phil Zuckerman (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010), p. 101.

This is a well-documented fact, and were I to have more sources to hand in the office I would provide them. My point is that although we may be tempted to say that the reason churches appear to be ‘ageing’ is that the population is ageing, and although I do not deny that religion is vibrant amongst some of the ‘young’, the main reason that churches are seeing their congregations getting older is because that is just what they are doing…

The article then closes with the following passage:

However, a spokesman for the Church of England disputed the idea that people became part of an organised religion after assessing potential “benefits”.

“People go to church because they believe in something and wish to join in with a community of people who think they same way.”

He added: “The theory doesn’t fit with the US, which has the highest church-going figures in the world.

For this, look at any number of works on ‘existential security’ – particularly the work of Norris & Inglehart. Scholars of religion have been trying for many years to fir he ‘secularisation thesis’ – which works for the ‘rest’ of the Western world, with the fact that religion seems to be alive and well in the United States. Although Grace Davie would argue that Europe is ‘the exceptional case’, personally I am most convinced by the fact that in the United States the vast majority of the population live with next-to-no existential security. If you cannot afford health insurance, you literally cannot afford to get ill… parents face crippling debts and punishing hours to push their kids through college… and what about state care for the unemployed, the homeless, the elderly? Contrast this with the Scandinavian countries where levels of ‘nonreligiosity’ are amongst the highest in the world, and levels of existential security… government provision of vital services… are incredibly high. People may not join churches through ‘assessing benefits’ – as Rodney Stark and Roger Finke would suggest with their ‘Rational Choice Theory’ – but it certainly seems that the ‘need’ for religion is much greater where our ‘earthly’ needs are not being met…

These are just some thoughts off the top of my head… but I would be very interested in reading the actual text of the study.