The interrelation of Modernization and Religion in Western Society

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2003
22 Seiten, Note: 2,0

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The secularisation process
2.1. Historical background
2.2. Impacts on society

3. Modernisation and Religion
3.1. Religion and the functions of religion in society
3.2. Modernisation and the impacts of modernisation on religiosity
3.3. Economic security and religiosity in Western countries

4. Conclusion

5. References

6. Appendix

1. Introduction

In all known human societies we can observe certain values and norms that are perceived as essential for life. Such values often serve as a guideline for the societal order. The values somebody has, depend on the cultural and socio-economic context he or she lives in, but also on his or her worldview. Values might change in importance and intensity or even might completely loose their meaning. There are different reasons for such changes, which not always must be linked to the decline of values as such. Very often the phenomenon of changing values derives from changing interpretations of values - new meanings of values or the status for a person’s life. It goes without saying that substantial developments within societies, such as growing technology, science, urbanization and growing economic security have a strong influence on the change or ranking of values.

Looking at religious norms and values linked to Christianity, a change of values can be observed. Obviously, the church, as the institutional power of the Christian religion, is more and more loosing its influence on certain domains in social life, such as in matters of abortion, baptism, crime, marriage and so on. This declining involvement of the church in the private sphere is coupled with a changing worldview like the shift from a sacral-mystic view on inevitable occurrences (i.e. death, tragedies, sufferings etc.) to a more profane view. The general notion that the world is becoming more and more secular, relying on science and technology instead of the traditional religious beliefs, is persistent. The question arising is, whether or not this notion of a changing worldview and a loss of influencing power of the church can be assigned to a certain occurrence, movement or historical event.

The concept of the secularisation process, which will be delineated further in this paper, will offer a framework to understand the shift of religious values and norms as they are currently observed in most of the Western countries. The secularisation of a nation or society constitutes the deceasing power of the Christian religion, which is rooted in end of the 18th century. Since then secularisation, which is an ongoing process, has experienced diverse driving forces, basically linked to sociological developments. As the measurability of declining religiosity still causes a lot of debate within sociological research, this work will have to concentrate on a single perspective of religiosity, namely the extent of the belief in God.

The thesis of this paper will be, that religious faith and belief and associated values are closely linked to the extent of economic security and the level of modernisation of a given society or country. Hence, the evidence of the interrelation of the extent of modernisation, involving the aspect of economic security and religiosity, will be the core element of the research. By elaborating the theory of the secularisation process, the aim of this work is to show the interdependence of religion and modernisation and whether it can be closely related to the economic environment. Thus, the comparison of the economic environment of various Western countries and their extent of religiosity will be examined.

2. The secularisation process

The following chapter will delineate the different dimensions of the secularisation process and the reasons for its emergence. Starting with the historical background and a definition, the further content will deal with the impact of secularisation on the general value orientation of Western societies with regard to religion and worldview. By the end of the chapter the reader shall have an accurate understanding of the great impact of the secularisation process on the decline of religiosity.

2.1 Historical background

The concept of the secularisation is used in diverse ways in sociology. Not only for that reason looking into the history of its emergence, its linguistic origin as well as different definitions is of importance to grasp the depth of its meaning.

Regarding the linguistic roots the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary traces secularisation to the Latin word “saeculum”, which is translated as: “generation” or “age“ (Webster’s Dictionary 1993: 2053). Now where does it linguistically link to? Cox describes the secularisation as a process in which human beings digress from the “beyond-world” in order to turn towards the “present-world”. “Saeculum” in this context refers to the present-world or era (1981: 238). In other words, secularisation indicates the changing process from a sacred to a more profane worldview, in which the mysterious, reverence and awe attitudes have to give way to the commonplace, mundane and ordinary aspects of life (Kammeyer et al. 1994: 503).

As already stated, the concept of secularisation has various dimensions, which can not be discussed by only tracing the linguistic origin of the term. As a clarification the Webster’s New International Dictionary defines “secular” as something: “[..] of or relating to the state as distinguished from the church. [..]” (Webster’s Dictionary 1993: 2053). This definition refers to the historical background of the concept. In this coherence secularisation expresses the expropriation of the secular and sacred goods of the churches and monasteries that occurred during the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century (Mann 1980: 9). The significance in that era has been the linguistic-historical reason for the usage of the term secularisation (Schrey 1981: 9). This also is supported by Meyer (1988: 28), who claims that the expropriation of goods from the ecclesiastical authority has been linked to the term “secularisation”. Despite this fact, the introduction of the term “to secularise” has a much older history. The French ambassador Longueville first introduced the term during the negotiations leading to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 (Meyer 1988: 27). At that time Longueville used the term to describe the expropriation of ecclesiastical territories, which were to serve as a compensation for the losses of German territories during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) (Dobbelaere 1981: 9).

As already stated above, the French Revolution of 1789 has been the coining event in the secularisation process. An examination of the reasons for the French Revolution and the later secularisation process is inevitable if one is to understand the era of that time. The philosophy of the enlightenment era, as defined by the Fischer Encyclopaedia of History quoting, the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1784), mainly consists of “the exit for human beings out of their self-inflicted immaturity”. In other words, enlightenment ought to encourage people to take the decision and have the courage to use the existing mind without using the merit of the others (Fischer Encyclopaedia 2003: 139). As Mann (1980: 10-11) argues, the French Revolution was the first attempt of human beings to realise salvation by rationality and nature through their own power and comprehension instead of waiting for the religious salvation of god. This meant that the French public was no longer willing to obey and to accept the absolutistic crown and power of the church. At that time religion, church and state were one and the same. As a logic consequence the decreasing acceptance of the secular institutions and authority (absolutistic crown) also negatively impaired the relationship to the church (Gensicke 2001: 117).

According to Meyer (1988: 28-19) the historical expropriation within the secularisation in the 19th century then received a political accent, as it also was understood as a settlement of illegitimate religious authority. One might argue, that the emergence of secularisation can be ascribed as the clash of power entitlement of religion and state (Valadier 1986: 37), whereas religion was represented by the church. However, this would not serve as an adequate explanation of the significant factor in the emergence of the process.

As mentioned above, the crucial element bringing forth the secularisation is founded in the changing worldview, as religion became a subordinate role in society. Raes (1986: 31) sums up the core argument by stating that secularisation involves a process and a worldview, in which the old paradigm of the divine being the acting and thinking centre of the universe, was detached by the idea of human beings becoming the source, reason and rule for all knowledge and action in the world.

2.2 Impacts on society

Having examined the historical emergence of the secularisation theory, the impact on society has different dimensions, which characterise secularisation as a multi-dimensional process.

Bryjak and Soroka (1994: 338) claim that secularisation, resulting from the growing rationality and increasing concern of prosperity within society, reflects the diminishing importance of religion in daily life. How can this decline of religion in society be measured? Since it is historically founded, secularisation generally is viewed from the perspective of the churches (Ester et al. 1993: 42), although the process also impairs other levels within society. These are as follows:

The most obvious impact, as described by the sociologist Anthony Giddens (2001: 545-546), can be perceived in the decreasing numbers of membership religious institutions in the industrialised countries (most of Western Europe) have been experiencing. Giddens does not mention that the decline of church attendance does not automatically imply a decrease in religiosity. Even though it is historically rooted and generally seen as an indicator of a growing secularisation, the reasons for this phenomenon might simply derive from the fact that the traditional doctrines of churches do not respond appropriately to the needs of the church leavers (Ester et al. 1993: 42). So on the one hand the motive of leaving the institutional church should not necessarily be equated with the loss of religiosity (Stark 1972: 371). Keeping this in mind, one might assume church-going primarily is motivated by habit or sociability rather than religious conviction (Inglehart 1997: 282). On the other hand looking at the impacts of secularisation, the decline of church attendance is of interest and should be stressed. Supporting this notion, Gensicke (2001: 108-109) claims that religion and the institutional church are closely connected with each other, so that their weakening bond can be seen as a symptom for a perishing religiosity. Furthermore going to church might indicate the priority people give to religion in their lives (Inglehart 1997: 282). Consequently not going to church might represent secularisation in its plainest form (Ester et al. 1993:9).

This leads us to the second dimension or level of secularisation notably affecting society. As Giddens (2001: 546) further argues, the extent of religious ideas and beliefs has become inferior in day-to-day life of people. Especially, if in this context religion includes the supernatural people were believing in, the notion of a declining religiosity, as a consequence of secularisation, is undeniable. Before the era of secularisation began, religious norms and values were taken for granted and could not be questioned or doubted. Opposed to that is the situation today, where the undermined authority of religious organisations makes people insecure of traditional religious values (Kammeyer et al. 1994: 513). This general insecurity even influences the socialisation process. Looking at the socialisation process of children in their families, the increase of religious education can be asserted. Not only that the world and the human beings are conveyed as a profane phenomenon and questions are answered more trivial, but also arising questions are not accumulated in the dimension of the sacred (Meyer 1988: 405). Or in other words: people might not see a reason for referring human existence and the cosmos to something supreme or transcendental (Ester et al 1993: 9). Those traditional ways of viewing the world have been replaced by a more profane and scientific worldview. For these reasons, one might claim that spirituality and divinity are no longer perceived as permanently present in the environment (Giddens 2001: 546). Yet, people, considering themselves as religious, incline to rate religious influence on their lives as less important as in the past (Kammeyer et al. 1994: 513). In brief: social life is more and more experiencing a vanishing influence of religion and churches (Ester et al 1993: 42), since secular beliefs are constantly increasing in the worldviews of Western societies.

On another level, the secularisation process characterises the withdrawal of the institutional churches out of spheres, which they have controlled or at least have influenced. This was first manifested in the division of state and church and in the expropriation of the ecclesiastical goods and territories in the 18th century, as explained earlier on (Meyer 1988: 33). As a result churches and religious institutions lost their wealth, prestige and social influence. The diminishing political and social influence even in our current century is quite obvious. The liberalisation of abortion for example, is causing an ongoing political and public debate worldwide. At least in most of the western countries, abortion as well as homosexuality and divorce finally became an issue of the individual choice without any prescriptions of the churches (Ester et al. 1993: 10). Further substantiating this notion, education likewise became an issue of the state without any responsibility of the churches (Kammeyer 1994: 512). Moreover, churches run out of money and therefore are in repair or in the status of disrepair (Giddens 2001: 545). Additionally to the three major dimensions mentioned, in which the secularisation occurred, cultural elements such as literature, arts and philosophy also were affected in a way, that inspirations by religious sources were lowered (Meyer 1988: 33).

In a nutshell, as asserted by Kammeyer et al. (1994: 511), secularisation constitutes the decrease of religious authority in different domains, such as practices, values, beliefs and the power of religious institutions themselves. Likewise occurring in different layers, namely on the societal, individual and cultural layer, the impact of the ongoing secularisation process leads to a decreasing influence of traditional religion on individualising society (Ester et al. 1993: 10). Further to Kammeyer’s consolidating arguments, one might also argue that secularisation is an expression of the absence of God, the loss of the sacred, the raise of atheism and the growing insignificance of the church, its tenets and rituals (Mann 1986: 31).

3. Modernisation and Religion

Having delineated the secularisation theory, the next chapter will concentrate on the clarification of the interrelation of modernisation and religion attributed by the secularisation process. In this coherence exceptions of this notion will be discussed in short. Beside a brief definition of the term “modernisation” and its major characteristics, the following section will also elaborate the functions of Christian religion and name the associated values prominent in Western societies. For the study of the decline of religiosity driven by elements of secularisation, a closer look at the definition of religion therefore becomes inevitable. Furthermore, this should serve as a foundation, to finally answer the crucial question, whether the interdependence of advanced economic security -as a major outcome of the modernisation process - and the declining extent of religiosity can be affirmed.

3.1 Religion and the functions of religion in society

At all times of history understanding and questioning the current world has been of particular interest for human beings (Bryjak and Soroka 1994: 338). Since then religion has generally been associated with the belief in something supernatural, supreme or divine. There are diverse descriptions and explanations of the term and its functions, so that a common definition is not easy to reach (Giddens 2001: 531). Though, religion is composed of certain attributes that can broadly be adapted to most of the world’s religions. As an introduction to the upcoming exploration of the characteristics and functions of religion, the Webster’s New International Dictionary suggests a helpful translation. The Latin word “religare” can be translated as “to tie up“, “to tie back” or “to tie fast” (Webster’s Dictionary 1993: 1918). Acting on the first suggestion of the translation, religion first of all might refer to or indicate human beings being “tied up” to the supernatural, God or a certain deity. Of course religion from a sociological perspective implies more than just the cohesion between Man and God. Giddens (2001: 531-532) emphasises the fact that religion in the majority of the cases, comprises of a community of believers evoking awe and reverence by a set of symbols. Those symbols, generally institutionalised, are linked to certain ceremonies or rites, for instance those of the Christian community practicing the church service. Additionally to the prevalent attributes, named by Giddens, Kammeyer et al. (1994: 504) further delineates religion as a phenomenon in society, involving practices, beliefs and values members of the society or the community hold sacred. Before mentioning some common religious values of Christian belief as an example, the concept of “value” should be shortly demarcated. As per Ester et al. (1993: 22), values first of all refer to a propensity to behave in a specific way. For that reason, values are enrooted orientations or motivations guiding specific behaviours, norms or attributes a person holds. Another dimension of the concept describes values people hold as somehow embodying the valuable, desirable or essential identified in life (Giddens 2001: 22). So, values help to distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong (Ester et al. 1993: 21) and therefore guide people to build their own attitude or opinion. In their survey of the change of “Human Values and Beliefs”, Inglehart et al. (1998: 10) enumerate common Christian beliefs. Here accompanied by some common christian values:

But what makes such religious values and beliefs so relevant for society? Beside the just mentioned function of influencing societal behaviour and formation of opinions and attitudes, their simple existence serves the function of religion on the whole. Bryjak and Soroka (1994: 335) are taking up the above mentioned characteristics of religion and point to an essential function religion has in society. They claim that the institutionalised and formalized rituals, such as the service in Christian churches, serve people as a spiritual cohesion providing unity among their adherers (Kammeyer et al 1994: 505). Lastly, this unity also includes the shared values and beliefs the community of believers have attending religious ceremonies and rituals. While interpreting this, one might perceive the function of religion as bringing people together on a social level. This notion of “social integration” (Ester et al. 1993: 38) or social stability is based on major thoughts of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim made in reference to core functions of religion in society. In addition to his studies of the functions of religion in regard to rituals and ceremonies, Giddens (2001: 537) resumes the thoughts of Durkheim’s idea of social stability. Namely, by arguing that religion plays an important role in the cohesion of members of certain communities. Taking the case of diverse societal events inherent to human life, i.e. marriage, birth or death, people develop a certain group solidarity. In the case of participating in a funeral ceremony, the solidarity within the group is so powerful that it even involves those having a different value orientation towards this social crisis. Ester et al. (1993: 37) conclude that Durkheim conditions religion as a social fact to the internalisation of the shared practices and beliefs held by the members of the community. Due to this fact, religion attests to provide social stability and solidarity among the members of a community or society in order to establish a foundation for sociability.

As Inglehart (1997: 285) claims, the core function of religion is to assure that in times of menacing situations, things will eventually turn out well, provided one has stuck to certain traditional rules. So in a way, religion offers a sense to navigate through the insecurities of life. Inglehart stresses one of the most powerful functions religious systems are offer their believers. It is a source of consolation and comfort. In addition to the ability to bear difficult situations, religion supports the acceptance to stand inescapable circumstances such as death, sufferings, frustration and disappointments (Kammeyer et al. 1994: 504). Equally important in the discussion about injustice of life, religion further provides an explanation, why for instance “bad things happen to good people” and vice versa. Durkheim at this point argues that religion offers the fundament to understand and accept such felt injustices and helps people not to detach from society as a matter of frustration and disorientation (Bryjak and Soroka 1994: 335).

Finally, speaking about religion as the source for answers of ultimate meaning, religion also satisfies needs of intellectual nature. Elemental questions inherent to human life, for instance the question of the purpose of life, are answered in religion (Kammeyer et al. 1994: 504; Ester et al. 1993: 37). As a matter of fact, religion satisfies intellectual inquisitiveness by meaningful answering questions of the origin and relevance of human life (Inglehart 1997: 285) and how it should be comprehended and interpreted (Kammeyer et al. 1994: 504).

3.2 Modernisation and the impacts of modernisation on religiosity

The buzzword modernisation or modernity very often is related to the technological or economical advance of a country or society. Further, it has mostly been interpreted as a contradiction to the traditional. Nevertheless, the phenomenon of modernisation is closely linked to various aspects in society and has been a major element in the academic origin of sociological studies (Ester et al. 1993: 3). Due to the variety of domains affected by the modernisation process, changing value orientations (in our case the status of religion and its associated values) as a part of the societal order is undeniably affected as well. In order to clarify the relationship between both modernisation and religiosity, one has to look at the attributes modernisation brings along and which trends are launched during its development.

Similar to the process of secularisation, modernisation is rooted in a revolutionary situation of the 18th century. Initially evoked by the rise of the enlightenment in Europe, the Industrial Revolution in the UK in 1750 was the starting point of the modernisation era (Raes 1986: 22-23). After the emergence of the industrialisation in England the pervasiveness of modernisation reached Europe closely after the French Revolution in 1789. Since then modernisation occurred as an essential interdependent modification in the political, socio-cultural, economical as well as technological level (Ester et al. 1993: 3). The first phase of the modernisation process was coined by the boost of the scientific-rational worldview and the substantial growth of productivity (Gensicke 2001: 111). With regard to the economic level, modernisation is mainly characterised by the development of international markets, the division of labour through specialisation (economy of scale) and the great increase of economic growth by industrialisation and the governmental restriction of agricultural activities. On the technological level more attention was paid to the usage of applied cognitions for the improvement of technology advancing the production and distribution of goods. All in all, the acquired knowledge was to offer the people the power to control the environment through advanced technology (Ester et al. 1993: 3).

According to Gensicke (2001: 111) in most of the European countries, modernisation caused a great shift of guiding values to the direction of an improvement of human existence in the present world rather than in the beyond world. Supporting this, Inglehart (1997: 5) argues that the main goal of modernisation has been the maximisation of personal well-being through economical growth within society. Of course, such goals could not be achieved without the disregard of other societal tasks at the same time. In parts, as stated by Gensicke, religious values and beliefs had to give way to a new worldview arising out off the progress of modernisation. With regard to the Christian view of wealth, Man should not be worried about material prosperity giving security in life. God should take care of such issues by promising satisfaction through salvation, especially for those who have been suffering of poverty and misery in the time of their earthly entity (Wilson 1997: 70). Now how does this match with the mentioned ideas and goals of modernisation? At this point one might suggest, that modernisation had to reduce certain traditional values and beliefs to become what it is today (Inglehart 1997: 81). Now taking the religious value of “frugality” for instance, requesting to be pleased with what one has, also strongly differs from the general idea of increasing prosperity and economic security, which actually has been a major outcome of the modernisation process (Ester et al. 1993: 3). But not only reducing aspects of religious values, also the rejection of personal economical success were abolished through modernisation (Inglehart 1997: 81).

In brief, modernisation comprises of the idea of individual satisfaction through the increase of economic security and achievements, replacing traditional values of modesty and frugality. Hence, the decline of religiosity caused by the rise of modernisation can be affirmed. Furthermore, the view on the world has been dramatically changed by the improvement of technology and science. The sociologist Max Weber claims that the change from the traditional (or religion-oriented) worldview to a scientific (or rational-oriented) view of the world, has been a main reason for the decline of religiosity and a crucial “door-opener” for the modernisation process to begin (Inglehart 1997: 80; 73). Ester et al. (1993: 5) support and engross Weber’s idea of the demystification of the world (“Entzauberung der Welt”) by arguing that the magical, mystical view and practices had to give way to scientific explanations and interpretations, becoming the core element involved in the modernisation process. Weber also refers to the fact that technology and science were ruling the world, instead of the previous magic and mystic (Dobbelaere 1981: 11). Following Stark (1972: 402), one might conclude that people, who totally live in a materialistic, industrialised world, also see the universe including human beings from a more scientific, physical view. Instead of placing the existence of mankind and earth in the traditional history of creation, science became the logical reason for everything formerly unexplained or mystical. Constituting the existence of mankind and cosmos to both science and religious facts at the same time is not possible. Or more drastically spoken, for those people, religion can only be marked as a “false science”. Obviously, speaking about the rise of modernisation also includes a negative effect on religious beliefs and values, as both inhere oppositional worldviews. Stark (1972: 402) further consolidates this observation by claiming that every time science gets more advanced, religion will be dismantled in its importance in human life. After all, modernisation and secularisation not only have the same historical origin, but they also entail the same influence on religiosity. One might claim that both are linked with each other by nature (Inglehart 1997:72) or have mutually favoured each other in their development process (Gensicke 2001: 111). Some sociology scientists even put the process of modernisation under the caption of the secularisation theory (Ester et al. 1993: 9). As a result, secularisation has a significant impact on the decline of religiosity. Simultaneously one might designate modernisation as a major influencing factor in the decline of religiosity and the worldview it implies, which explains the change of status of religion in society (Bryjak and Soroka 1994: 342).

3.3 Economic security and religiosity in western countries

As just learned from the previous chapter, economic security has been one of the major outcomes of the modernisation era in Western counties and especially in Europe. Above all goals to be attained, the personal well-being has been one of the highest objectives (Inglehart 1997: 5) Man was trying to achieve and maintain after the rise of modern society. No one would vehemently disagree to the general notion that a high religiosity is mostly distinct in countries or societies suffering of bad economic conditions, such as poverty or misery. Furthermore, religious belief becomes prominent in situations inevitable in human life, such as in times of death, mourning, sufferings, tragedies and frustration (Kammeyer et al. 1994: 504). So, one could conclude that anytime Man is desolated by luck and prosperity, faith in religion becomes more prominent and vice versa. Although this common view of the interdependence of religiosity and personal well-being through economic wealth is not generally rejected, clear evidence is not easy to achieve. Nevertheless, this chapter will concentrate on the analysis of the interrelation between both dimensions in diverse Western countries. In this coherence the GNP (gross net product) per capita (per Head) serves as an indicator for the economic security of the people of a certain country. Originally the survey involved more than 20 countries, including those of the Eastern hemisphere. Those countries are not in the scope of this paper and therefore are disregarded in this examination. The various Western countries, mostly from Europe, on which the examination will be carried out, are Sweden, West Germany, Finland, Spain, UK, USA and Mexico.

The emphasis of religiosity as the counterpart in the examination will be specified by the extent to which the countries rate the “Importance of God in life”. Before determining the correlation of the factors of the countries mentioned above, the extent of religiosity will be evaluated as a single entity.

In his survey of value change in 43 countries, which is based on the results of the World Value Survey from 1990, the development of religiosity will be regarded in the period from 1981-1990 (Inglehart 1997: 281). There are two major indicators of religiosity, which already have been discussed in chapter 2.2. As the decline of church attendance should not be equated with the decrease of religiosity (Stark 1972: 371) in a society, the following investigation will disregard this indicator. A much more sensitive indicator in this coherence is the number of how important people rate religion in their lives. Questions such as “How important is God in your life?” or “Are you a religious person?” are referring to the emotional attitude a person has towards religion (Ester et al. 1993: 50). This indicator is not linked to a certain traditional institution, since a person might not identify with the church and still be religious. For this reason Inglehart has chosen this indicator to determine the developments in the realm of religion. Figure 1 (s. Appendix) is showing the results of the survey, in which the people were asked to rate the importance of God in their lives in a point-scale from 1-10. Whereas “1” indicates a low and “10” indicates a high relevance of God. The diagram displays the percentage of those countries, that gave a rating between 7-10, indicating a high importance of God in their lives (Inglehart 1997: 283).

Needless to say that in almost every country religiosity is observed as a diminishing figure. An obvious reason for the perceived decline might be the growth of economy in most of the countries. Those mostly industrialised countries of European origin have been experiencing changes of prosperity (Inglehart 1997: 284) through the ongoing modernisation within the ten years concerned. Even in non-European countries, U.S. and Mexico, people have rated religiosity as significantly minor important than at the beginning of the survey. One might suggest that these countries also have been going through the same modernisation process. Nevertheless, religiosity in 1990 in the majority of the countries was rated relatively high. In four out of seven countries 40 to 82 per cent of the people rated God as important in their lives.

In detail, religion for the people in Sweden has decreased from 23 to 20 per cent, in West Germany and Finland each declined 4 and 1 per cent to 39 and 40 per cent. Further, Spain puts less emphasis on religion, rating the relevance of God from 52 to 49 per cent and the UK from 45 to 37 per cent. The U.S. and Mexico have significantly high numbers of people rating religiosity as important, both in 1981 and 1990. Religiosity in the U.S. has always been relatively high compared to other countries also having a high level of advanced technology and science, such as West Germany or Sweden. Or in other words, the U.S. shows remarkably high results. This is comparable to countries not belonging to the top of the most modernised countries in the world (Gensicke 2001: 113-114). The U.S. seems to be a special phenomenon, worthwhile putting a closer look at the end of the investigation. Anyway, religiosity in the U.S. has also decreased from 81 to 75 per cent. Last but not least religion in Mexico, previously almost important for every Mexican (92 per cent), declined by 10 per cent to 82 per cent. Summarising what has been said so far, one might claim that secularisation does not even spare countries, which already show a low emphasis on religion. In order to prove the thesis that the modernisation process conditions a lesser emphasis on religion and is bound to a low status of economic security, one has to verify the economical status of the countries concerned during the execution of the survey.

Accordingly, the next diagram (Figure 3) will put the sensitive indicator for religiosity, namely the extent of religious priority, into relation with the indicator for economic security measured in GNP per head (GNP/Capita). For this reason, the information about the GNP/per capita shown in Figure 2 (s. Appendix) will be put into relation with the observed religiosity in 1990. The data of Figure 2 was taken from the ‘World Development Report 1993’ of the World Bank investigating the subjective well-being and economic security of diverse countries. The consolidation of both diagrams (Figure1/Figure2) leads to results shown in Figure 3. The displayed curve indicates the GNP per head in US$ for each country taken from the bar diagram of Figure 2. As one might observe, most of the countries having a high per head GNP, also have rated religion relatively low compared to those countries rating religion as more important. At first sight, one could suggest that the interrelation of economic security and religiosity - with some exceptions - can be described as interrelated.

Figure 3 - (Consolidation of Figure 1 and Figure 2) adapted

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Taking Sweden for instance: 20 per cent of the population have rated religiosity as important in life. This is accompanied by a very high per Head GNP of US$ 25,000. Compared to the UK, where religiosity is rated as important to 37per cent of the people, the UK can only offer a much lower GNP/per capita of US$ 15,500. Another clear relation between the interdependence of religion and economy can be seen in Mexico. With a relatively low GNP of US$ 3,000 per head, religiosity was rated to be important for more than 80 per cent of the population.

Apart of two exceptions, an increase of religiosity can be correlated to a decrease in the GNP/per capita. The trend of the US$-curve is mainly interrupted by the high figures of both, religiosity and economic security people are experiencing in the United States. How can this remarkable phenomenon in the U.S., apparently resistant of the secularisation process, be explained?

According to Giddens (2001:531), the U.S. has included the freedom of religious expression into its constitution of 1776, far before the wide pervasiveness of religiosity in Western Europe took place. Due to this fact, religion in the U.S. has developed in many varieties. Today nearly 90 per cent of the population claim to be Christians. Anyway, understanding the special status of religion in the U.S., a brief look at the history of the rise of modernisation and religion is needed. Max Weber investigated the phenomenon, as such existing in the US, in his analysis of the “Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism”. As Kammeyer (1994: 502) argues, Weber’s major findings were based on the fact that economic security inherent to modern Western societies has strongly been fostered by the spread of Protestantism. After breaking with the Catholic Church, diverse denominations having a much more positive notion towards the economy and its activities were created (Bryjak and Soroka 1994: 336). One of the tenets that arose out of the reformation, were those of the theologian John Calvin (Kammeyer 1994: 502). Calvinism refers to the concept of ‘predestination’, which stands for the idea that only certain individuals are to enter heaven in the after-life since they are elected from God. Therefore, Calvinists were turning towards economic achievements in order to find out whether they were among the “elected”. Economic achievements were equated to the love of God. As a matter of fact, Calvinism has heavily influenced the U.S., its values and beliefs (Gensicke 2001: 116). Consequently, Calvinism can be seen as the major indicator for the mutual rise of religiosity and economic strength in the United States.

The UK is the second exception not following the trend of the diagram (s. Appendix; Figure 3). Since the discrepancy to the trend is not significantly high, one might suggest that the UK has been secularised to a higher extent than the rest of Western Europe.

In keeping with the thesis, the correlation between the GNP/capita and the extent of religiosity by rating God as important in live, can at least be affirmed in this examination. Five out of seven countries were showing the predicted correlation between economic security and religiosity. Certainly there are several countries besides the U.S. (i.e. Ireland), which can not be clearly assigned to the core thesis. By using further surveys regarding this topic, the validity of the thesis could be increased. Nevertheless, there is a common trend showing that countries of less economic power have a stronger notion of religious values and beliefs ascribed to reasons delineated in this paper.

4. Conclusion

The aim of the paper was to prove that religious faith and belief and the associated values are closely linked to the extent of economic security and the level of modernisation of society. In this coherence the theory of the secularisation process and its impacts on society was elaborated. It was to serve as a framework for the comprehension of the emergence of the modernisation process and its meaning for the societal worldview. Further it was argued that the view on the world based on traditional beliefs and values, had to give way to a scientific worldview. The scientific worldview gave the unexplainable a logical and profane reason. Instead of getting spiritual salvation, people were driven by economic achievements as their major goals arose out of their adherence to the modern society. What further has become clear is that secularisation and modernisation are inherently linked with each other. Both have a negative effect on religion, by encouraging people to use their knowledge to control their environment and destiny instead of relying on traditional beliefs of doctrines. If one is to agree with the fact that modernisation, driven by a secular worldview, leads to a prioritisation of economic issues over religious beliefs and values. The linkage between the decline of religiosity and the extent of economic security can be confirmed. Moreover, to support the thesis of this work, the investigation of seven Western countries has proven, five out seven countries follow the predicted trend. According the countries being considered as expections, such as the United States, have strongly been influenced by movements derived from the reformation of the Catholic Church. Compared to the tradtional Christian religion, this new denominations, sects and uninstitionalised religions have a much stronger convergence to modernised and secular issues of life.

Even though secularisation and modernisation can be identified as ongoing processes in nearly all Western societies, some traditional values, rooted in religion, will always serve as an indicator of societal order and stability. Looking at crime for instance: theft or murder are socially condemned or are prosecuted by law. Although traditional values are obviously loosing their influence in several domains of social life, some societal norms and values still indicate social order and are based on the ten commandments.


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Figure 1 – (source: Inglehart 1997: 372) adapted

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2 – (source: Inglehart 1997: 62) adapted

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The interrelation of Modernization and Religion in Western Society
Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften Hamburg
Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaften
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Modernization, Religion, Western, Society, Kultur-, Sozialwissenschaften
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Kibreab Wolde-Mikael (Autor), 2003, The interrelation of Modernization and Religion in Western Society, München, GRIN Verlag,


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