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Christian cancellation of the secular truce

Christian cancellation of the secular truce December 21, 2009

Achterberg_2009_truce_cancellationPeople living in the UK will have noticed that Christians have been getting noisier in recent years. More clamour for more state-funded faith schools, more litigations, and more complaints against perceived anti-Christian bias.

Evidence of a popular religious revival? Or the death throes of a once-powerful ideology? A team from Erasmus University in the Netherlands has some answers.

It seems that when Christianity is popular, Christians are content with the idea of a firewall separating Church and State. It’s only when Christianity begins to lose it’s influence over the population at large that Christians begin to campaign for the State to adopt a Christian character.

Looking at survey data from 18 Western countries, they found:

  • The fewer Christians in a country, the greater the support among Christians for a greater public role for religion (as shown in the graph).
  • The polarization of views between Christians and non-religious on a public role for religion is greatest in countries where there are fewest Christians.

Then they took a look at data from the Netherlands, where the proportion of Christians has plummeted from 60% in 1970 to 35% in 1996. There’s a good time-series of data covering this decline in Christianity.

In the Netherlands they found a similar picture. As the numbers of Christians declined, the support among Christians for a greater public role for religion went up, and the gulf in attitudes grew.

I guess these results are not too surprisingly, but they do highlight a reality that is often not fully appreciated by researchers into ‘secularization’. And that is that secularization is not a single thing or process. What’s more, it’s possible to have different aspects of secular (or religious) trends to move in opposite directions, at least for a time.

A resurgence of governmental interest in religion, and increased noise from religious adherents, can happen alongside a increasing popular disinterest!

Well, that’s nearly it for 2009! I hope you enjoyed the blog this year, and I wish you all a great Christmas (or whatever you choose to call the midwinter/summer festival). I’ll try to put a post up before the New Year, but just in case I don’t – have a happy New Year as well 🙂

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ResearchBlogging.orgAchterberg, P., Houtman, D., Aupers, S., Koster, W., Mascini, P., & Waal, J. (2009). A Christian Cancellation of the Secularist Truce? Waning Christian Religiosity and Waxing Religious Deprivatization in the West Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 48 (4), 687-701 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2009.01473.x

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.


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