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  • Date Submitted: 07/23/2011 11:19 AM
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Secularization as defined in the Oxford dictionary of Sociology (Marshall G, 1998) is the process whereby, especially in modern industrial societies, religious beliefs, practices, and institutions lose social significance. The secularization thesis argues that this has occurred in modern societies, due to a number of factors. This essay will assess whether this theory has value. I will present the main definitions of religion and the contrasting points of view, as the meaning of religion and both sides of the secularization thesis have to be understood in order to evaluate it.

To be able to comprehend the secularization thesis, religion must, first of all, be defined. There are two main approaches that have been presented by sociologists, the functional and substantive definitions (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). The functional definition relates to the purposes of religion - what it does. It states that one of these purposes may be to 'provide solutions to ultimate problems' (Bruce, 1996). Religion can also provide guidelines for how to behave according to the functional definition, which in turn contributes to social order and stability. The substantive definition sees religion as what it is rather than what it does. So religion could be explained in the following way according to the substantive definition: beliefs and actions, which involve Gods and other supernatural beings (Jorgensen et al, 1997)

It is felt that there are problems with these meanings. Firstly, the functional definition could be seen as defining religion as an umbrella term. For it includes belief systems

which some might not view as a religion, for example nationalism could be seen as a religion under the functional definition as it offers answers to fundamental questions

(one of the purposes of religion). Secondly, it becomes difficult to say what an 'ultimate problem' is in different societies, what is an ultimate problem in one part of the world may not be in another. It is also...


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