Assess the view that religious beliefs and practices are changing to reflect a new era of diversity and choice.
In the recent years there has been evidence to support that religious activity and religious beliefs are declining in the UK e.g. the rise of new religious movements such as Jehovah’s witnesses (sect), but some sociologists reject this and say that religion isn’t declining it is just changing to fit into a more increasingly changing society. Davie is one of these sociologists; in her view religion is taking a different, more privatised form. She explains this by giving the example of that people no longer go to church because they feel they have to or because it is respectable to do so. She says that although churchgoing has declined it is simply because attendance is now a matter of personal choice rather than the obligation it use to be. As a result there is believing without belonging, where by people hold religious beliefs but don’t go to church. Therefore the decline of traditional religion is matched by the growth of the new form of religion. Davie also notes a trend towards vicarious religion, whereby people are experiencing religion second hand. This is a typical pattern in Britain and northern Europe. In these societies people still use the church for rites of passage, rituals that make a change of status such as baptisms, weddings and funerals. Similarly Bibby’s findings show that only 25% attended church but 80% said they have religious beliefs, identified positively with religious traditions and turned to religious for rites of passage. Although they rarely went to church, they continued to be interested in the supernatural. This shows that people are now choosing whether or not to go to church as now it is not seen as an obligation to go and therefore is creating more choice and it shoes that it is becoming more of a personal choice and individualised which is creating more levels of religiosity.
However there are some critics of her theory of believing without belonging such as Voas and Crockett show evidence from the British Social Attitudes survey shows that both church attendance and beliefs in God are declining. If Davie were right there would be higher levels of beliefs. Burce adds that if people are not willing to invest time in going to church it reflects the declining strength of their beliefs. He states when people no longer believe they wish on longer to belong and their involvement in religion diminishes.
Similar to Davies, Hervieu-Léger continues the theme of personal choice and believing without belonging. She agrees that there has been a decline in institutional religion in Europe, with fewer people attending church in most countries. She says this is partly because of cultural amnesia and as a result of this it has allowed children in today’s society to decide which religion to follow themselves. They now have no fixed religiosity identity and they are ignorant of traditional religion. A consequence of this is that it undermines traditional institutional religion and has now become individual consumerism; people today feel they have a choice as consumers of religion and have become spiritual shoppers.
We now develop our own ‘do it yourself’ belief that gives meaning to our lives and fits in with our interests and aspirations. Religion is becoming a spiritual journey in which we choose the elements we want to explore and the groups we wish to join, as an individual rational choice. As a result of this Hervieu-Léger argues that two new religious types are emerging. Pilgrims that follow an individual path in a search for self discovery and converts which join religious groups that offer a strong sense of belonging. As a result of these trends religion no longer acts as the source of collective identity. Her view can be related to late modernity. This is the notion that in recent decades some of the trends within modern society have begun to speed up, such as the decline...
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