6,000 Reasons Why Religion Still Has a Prayer in 2010; Secularisation Theory Faces Challenge from Welsh University

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Byline: Robin Turner

FOR the best part of two centuries, scientists and philosophers have predicted the decline of religion in the modern world.

Indeed, falling church attendance figures in most of Europe seem to bear that prediction out.

But a Welsh university is now challenging the "secularisation theory" of social theorists such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Max Weber and [ETH]mile Durkheim - by collecting 6,000 reasons why religion exists.

Researchers at the University of Wales in Lampeter have collected thousands of "religious experiences" that can used as a resource for students taking theology-related degrees.

And the research, particularly in places like China, is mounting a challenge to the theory that the modernisation of society would include a decline in levels of religiosity.

"Religious experience still happens and can still change lives," said Paul Badham, the director of the university's religious experience research centre, which marked its 40th anniversary in November. . Prof Badham said: "Indeed, in some ways, with the decline in institutional religion, people seem more likely to have these experiences."

Since 1969, more than 6,000 accounts have been added to the centre's database.

The religious experience has been defined as coming from those who report "a presence or power different from everyday life, regardless of whether or not they attribute the phenomena to God".

Prof Badham said: "There are no common factors, and people of all ages and social backgrounds write in, although it is true that people with some religious background more often report such experiences.

"It might be noted that some feel ill at ease with institutional religion, and find clergy do not appear to always understand what they have experienced."

The centre, which was founded by the zoologist Sir Alister Hardy (1896-1985), concentrates on teaching masters degrees in religious experience, and in supervising doctoral students.

Research students there are currently working on projects including how to help and understand bereaved parents and the effect of school assemblies on primary school pupils. …