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1. Classical Secularisation Theories

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In this lecture, we think about classical theories of secularisation, focusing in particular on: (i) Auguste Comte’s law of three stages and its role in shaping the basic premise of secularisation theory that as societies modernise, religion will necessarily decline; (ii) Émile Durkheim’s explanation for the decline of religion in modernity as a result of urbanisation and the decline of small-scale rural communities; (iii) Max Weber’s alternative account of secularisation based on the ideas of rationalisation and disenchantment in modern capitalist society.


In this course, Professor Linda Woodhead (Lancaster University) explores secularisation theory and evidence around the decline of religion in modern society. In the first lecture, we consider three classical theories of secularisation provided by Auguste Comte, Émile Durkheim and Max Weber. In the second lecture, we focus on the more recent approaches of Peter Berger, Bryan Wilson and Steve Bruce. In the third lecture, we look at the empirical evidence around the extent to which religion has declined in modern Britain. Next, we think about some challenges to secularisation theory. In the fifth and final lecture, we look at an alternative approach to understanding religious change which argues that religion is not declining, but rather shifting from an institutionalised to a personal, spiritual form.


Professor Linda Woodhead is Distinguished Professor of Religion and Society at Lancaster University. She has written widely on religion in modern society. Her recent publications include That Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People (2016) (as co-author), Christianity: A Very Short Introduction (2014), and Everyday Lived Islam in Britain (2013) (as co-author).

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Woodhead, L. (2021, August 23). Secularisation - Classical Secularisation Theories [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Woodhead, L. "Secularisation – Classical Secularisation Theories." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Aug 2021,

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