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2. Modern Secularisation Theories

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In this lecture, we think about modern theories of secularisation, focusing in particular on: (i) Peter Berger’s notion of religion as a sacred canopy which breaks down as societies become more plural and diverse; (ii) how Berger and his colleague Thomas Luckmann later rejected secularisation theory; (iii) more recent secularisation theorists such as Bryan Wilson and Steve Bruce, and Bruce’s explanation for the collapse in church attendance and other religious practices in Britain; (iv) Wilson’s theory of social differentiation and the separation of religion from other areas of social life as the cause of secularisation.


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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APA style

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

MLA style

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

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