Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

The Religious Factor in Contemporary Society

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

The Religious Factor in Contemporary Society

Article excerpt




The Differential Impact of Religion on the Private and Public Sphere in Comparative Perspective


This paper explores the relationships between values in the religious domain and values in other societal spheres. Starting from the general idea that the impact of religion on other domains in life has decreased, we assume 1) a differential impact of religion on the private and public domains; 2) that the impact varies between countries dependent upon the degree of secularization and the speed of secularization. Several more specific hypotheses concerning the interrelationships are developed and empirically tested using the data from the European Values Studies. The hypotheses are partially confirmed, but demonstrate that indeed the relationship between religion and the private domain (e.g., family has developed differently from the relations between religion and the public areas.

1. Introduction

A BASIC ELEMENT in the theories on the modernization of society is the idea of continual changes in all spheres of social life. These changes are considered to' follow the same pattern in all countries (Lane and Ersson, 1996:. 17). However, changes in the various domains of life not necessarily occur simultaneously, in the same direction, in the same magnitude or sequence. This questions the idea that the changes "spring from some underlying condition, such as the emergence of a certain kind of attitude or motivation, an alteration in the basis forms of production, or a revolution in communications" (Tilly, 1984: 45). Apparently, the changes in one domain are, at least, partly independent from the changes in the other domains.

The occurrence of (partly) independent changes is explained by the process of differentiation. All theories of modernization regard this a core process of social change. Differentiation refers to the "ways through which the main social functions or major institutional spheres of society become differentiated from one another, attached to specialized collectivities and roles, and organized in relatively specific and autonomous symbolic and organizational frameworks within the confines of the same institutionalized system" (Eisenstadt, 1970: 15).

Differentiation is also an important issue in the theories of secularization. Such theories describe and explain the developments in the domain of religion. The decreased involvement in religious organizations and the gradual alterations of people's religious beliefs are assumed to be the ultimate consequences of a process of differentiation. The traditional functions of the churches have become less important in the modern rational world, and religion is assumed to have lost its dominant and imposing position in contemporary society. Many empirical secularization studies have focused on the changes in individual behaviours and belief systems, and reported the decline of the traditional religious beliefs and the rise of what is called a personal religiosity. Although such results indeed indicate a decline in traditional religiosity, they do not reveal the assumed declining impact of religion in society. Religion is assumed to be no longer the "sacred canopy" influencing most parts of social life, which it ha s been able to do for so many centuries (Berger, 1969). The once strong relationship between religion and other social domains is assumed to be less self-evident in contemporary society.

In this paper we investigate the relationships between religion and other social domains of life. The aim of the paper is first of all to specify the general idea of the decreasing impact of religion on other domains of social life and to formulate some concrete hypotheses concerning, these relationships. For instance, it seems necessary to make a distinction between the public and private social spheres. Among others Luckmann has argued that the religious decline is primarily found in the public sphere and to a lesser extent in the private sphere. …

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