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Religion and Modernity

3. The American Story of Religion and Modernity

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In this module, we think about the very different relationship between religion and modernity which developed in the USA. In particular, we focus on: (i) the more positive attitude towards religion of the American Enlightenment; (ii) the historical background from which this stemmed, centred around small Christian denominations settling in America in pursuit of religious freedom; (iii) the pattern of urbanisation in the US, wherein churches were not left behind but grew alongside urban communities; (iv) the “virtuous circle” of religion and modernity in the US, in contrast to the European “downward spiral”, and the challenge to secularisation theory this offers.


In this course, Professor Grace Davie (University of Exeter) considers the relationship between religion and modernity. In the first module, we clarify the meaning of the term “modernity”. In the second and third modules, we look at the different trajectories of religion in Europe and the USA, noting that whereas in Europe modernisation entailed secularisation, in the US religion and modernity have been mutually reinforcing. The fourth module explores changes to modernity in the late-twentieth century, how they influenced religion, and whether the terms “late modernity” and “post modernity” are useful in characterising them. In the fifth module, we interrogate whether there is a universal narrative of religion and modernity through Shmuel Eisenstadt’s notion of “multiple modernities”, before concluding with Professor Davie’s thoughts on this question in the final module.


Professor Grace Davie is Professor Emeritus in Sociology at the University of Exeter. She is a leading sociologist of religion and has written widely on religion in the modern world. Her publications include Religion in Public Life: Levelling the Ground (2017), Religion in Britain: A Persistent Paradox (2015), and The Sociology of Religion: A Critical Agenda (2013).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Davie, G. (2021, October 06). Religion and Modernity - The American Story of Religion and Modernity [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Davie, Grace. "Religion and Modernity – The American Story of Religion and Modernity." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Oct 2021,

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