Back in the sixties, the American sociologist Peter Berger proposed the Secularization Hypothesis – a fancy term for the theory that as cultures become more modern, they will move out from under the umbrella of religion. This change could be seen in a number of ways. It could show up as a declining importance of religion in organizations; think about hospitals, many of which still bear religious names, but not much else religious. Or secularization could show up as fewer and fewer people professing belief or affiliation.
Berger recanted his theory and now argues that development leads to a diversity of religions, but the secularization debate continues. And the debate persists for a good reason – it’s really difficult to gain a clear picture of how religion is changing among individuals, communities, and cultures. Over the next few weeks I’m going to review some of the research that tries to follow religious change.