Religion is Here to Stay: What Killed the Secularization Thesis?


What follows here are insights drawn from sociologist Rodney Stark’s influential essay ‘Secularization, R.I.P.’ (1999) published in the journal Sociology of Religion. Stark’s article is insightful in the challenges it presents to common assumptions held by many persons today, especially by proponents of the secularization hypothesis/thesis. The essay presents an extensive engagement with various empirical, statistical, and historical evidence to bolster its claims. I have summarized the assumptions and claims Stark strongly attempts to refute as follows:

[1] That during the Middle Ages there were far more religious believers than there are today in the West, which suggests religion has declined as society has become increasingly secular. This is false and Stark refers to it as the “myth of religious decline.”

[2] That during the Middle Ages far more people attended church than they do today in the West, which suggests that fewer people today attend church because society has become increasingly secular. This is false and Stark refers to it as the “myth of past piety”.

That the presence of and adherence to Christianity during the “Christianization” of much of Medieval Europe was extensive. However, Christianity is less embraced today because society has become increasingly secular. This Stark claims is false and he calls it the “failure to Christianize.”

In light of this, what is Stark arguing against? Stark is first and foremost criticizing the ‘extreme’ version of secularization. This version posits that humanity will outgrow religion at some point in the future the further it progresses scientifically and technologically. This perspective is easily brought into question and is seldom accepted by sociologists and religion scholars today. Stark locates the origin of this version in the seventeenth century when British thinkers presented militant attacks on religious faith. Thomas Woolston (1668-1733) predicted that modernity would trump faith and that Christianity would be gone by 1900. Philosopher Auguste Comte predicted that society would outgrow the earlier theological and metaphysical stages to embrace positive-science. A. E. Crawley claimed that religion’s “extinction [is] only a matter of time” (1) and Anthony F. C. Wallace posited that “the evolutionary future of religion is extinction” (2). This has too been the claims of oppressive regimes. In an era of incredible persecution of religion under the Soviet Union, Emelian Yaroslavsky, the President of the League of Militant Atheists, claimed religion had not been superseded because humanity was insufficiently scientific. He made promises that the Communist Party was the ideal choice for overcoming this hurdle and that through disseminating scientific knowledge religion would soon face its elimination. Stark, however, certainly believes that these views are too extreme and are undermined by the facts. Stark does admit a ‘moderate’ form of secularization, which refers to a decline in the social power of once-dominant religious institutions. Other social institutions, especially political and educational ones, have escaped from religious domination; Stark writes,

“Everyone must agree that in Europe, Catholic bishops have less political power than they once had, and the same is true of Lutheran and Anglican bishops (although bishops probably never were nearly so powerful as they now are thought to have been). Nor are primary aspects of public life any longer suffused with religious symbols, rhetoric, or ritual” (3)

General Issues with Extreme Secularization

Stark maintains that the moderate version, which merely emphasizes the growing separation of church and state, is not what proponents of the strong version are claiming. These latter proponents go significantly further in anticipating the disappearance of religion itself. We will shortly see what Stark has to say about science, but it is clear, he states, that proponents usually view science as having the most damaging impact on religion. Science, according to such logic, is what will free humanity from the superstitions of religion, but if what the strong secularists are claiming is true then surely scientists should be a relatively irreligious group. Stark disagrees for reasons we shall cover shortly.

Another issue with the strong version is that its proponents seem to think that secularization is an irreversible phenomenon. But this is undermined by evidence, notably the trends and events in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. If secularization is irreversible then these locations should today be atheist hives, yet in the case of the Soviet Union, despite many decades of anti-religious and scientific-atheist propaganda, religion could not be destroyed and powerfully resurged after the fall of the Soviet state. Further issues with secularization, in particular, the strong version and possibly even the moderate, is that proponents tend to focus their discussions mostly on Christendom, yet they will then apply their theses globally. They essentially propose that all belief in the supernatural will die out: just as belief in Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead will die out, so will belief in Allah, Amaterasu, Vishnu, and Krishna. As we shall see, Stark marshals significant evidence that undermines tendencies to universalize secularization to countries beyond the West.

The Myth of Religious Decline

Since the eighteenth-century proponents of the strong version have assumed religious adherence to have declined (4). Proponents will point to the decline of church attendance in much of Europe as evidence of the erosion of faith, evidently with the assumption that church attendance and religious participation is low because of the lack of beliefs needed to motivate these. Stark argues that these claims and assumptions are false on numerous fronts,

“First, there has been no demonstrable long-term decline in European religious participation! Granted, participation probably has varied from time to time in response to profound social dislocations such as wars and revolution, but the far more important point is that religious participation was very low in northern and Western Europe many centuries before the onset of modernization” (5).

The second reason to reject the secularization of Europe is that data do not support the arrival of an age of ‘scientific-atheism’, “Levels of subjective religiousness remain high — to classify a nation as highly secularized when the age majority of its inhabitants believe in God is absurd” (6). Thus, as some scholars have noted, what one must question is not why people no longer believe, but why they “persist in believing but see no need to participate with even minimal regularity in their religious institutions?” (7).

Stark sees very little change in religion’s constitution between the Middle Ages and now. Like then, today most people are religious because they believe and, like today, most did not take their beliefs very seriously,

“Certainly most people in medieval times seem to have held religious beliefs, even if these were somewhat vague and included as much magic and animism as Christianity, and thus through belief, if not through practice, these were religious societies (cf., Duffy 1992), keeping in mind that a substantial proportion of medieval populations did not take their religious beliefs very seriously. Nor must we forget that a significant number, probably about the same as today, rejected religious beliefs” (8).

The Myth of Past Piety

A subsequent mistaken assumption is that the world was once pious: “that in olden days most people exhibited levels of religious practice and concern that today linger only in isolated social subcultures such as the Amish, ultra-orthodox Jews, or Muslim fundamentalists. But, like so many once-upon-a-time tales, this conception of a pious past is mere nostalgia; most prominent historians of medieval religion now agree that there never was an “Age of Faith”” (9). Reputable scholars supporting this perspective are Morris, Duffy, Sommerville, Bossy, Obelkevich, Murray, Thomas, and Coulton. Not only does this maintain a strong position within scholarship, but it is also bolstered by documentary and testimonial evidence. For example, the eleventh century English monk William of Malmesbury (1080-1143) complained that the aristocracy rarely attended church. Even the more pious among them attended mass at home in bed,

“They didn’t go to church in the mornings in a Christian fashion; but in their bedchambers, lying in the arms of their wives, they did but taste with their ears the solemnities of the morning mass rushed through by a priest in a hurry” (10).

Even the masses of ‘ordinary’ people of the Middle Ages and during the renaissance seldom attended church. Their private worship was also directed toward an array of spirits and supernatural agencies, with only some of these being recognizably Christian. The Dominican prior Humbert of Romans (1200-1277) told his friars that “reaching the laity involves catching them at markets and tournaments, in ships, and so on” (11). He went on to claim that the masses “rarely go to church, and rarely to sermons; so they know little of what pertains to their salvations.” Regular clergy were also seldom at church given they were so involved in gambling, pleasure, and “worse things”. A number of other medieval writers, such as the anonymous author of Dives and Pauper, Blessed Giordano of Rivalto, and St. Antonino, share such insights. According to these sources, many people went to church only on important days, peasants seldom attended mass, that the people were “loath to hear God’s service” and would rather go to a tavern, and so on. According to scholars who have extensively surveyed parish churches across various parts of Europe, these structures were in fact too small to have held more than a small fraction of a local population (12). Moreover, it was not until the late Middle Ages that there were ever more than just a few parish churches outside cities and larger towns (not counting the private chapels maintained for the local nobility), at a time when nearly everyone lived in rural areas.

The historian Keith Thomas has found how many people did not attend church willingly (13). Many simply showed up under compulsion and on many occasions gathered within churches for entirely unreligious activities. These activities included indoor marketplaces, the storage of crops, for sheltering livestock, and so on. In fact, evidence supports the periodic renewal of interest in religion suggesting religion was never an omnipresent phenomenon in these societies; Stark articulates,

“To be sure, there were periodic explosions of mass religious enthusiasm in medieval times as new sectarian movements — including the Waldensians and the Albigensians — attracted large followings (Lambert 1992). However, as I have clarified elsewhere, such outbursts are not to be expected where conventional religious organizations are strong, but only where religious apathy and alienation are widespread (Stark 1996a, 1996b). That is, religious rebellions during medieval times offer additional testimony against images of widespread involvement in organized religion” (14).

Further, as Europe transitioned out of the Medieval period, religious participation seems not to have improved, although religious behavior did. Various reports written by Anglican bishops and archbishops following visitations to their parishes suggest this to be the case. In Oxfordshire, thirty parishes drew a combined total of 911 communicants in 1738 based on the four “Great Festivals” of Easter, Ascension, Whitsun, and Christmas. This turnout was less than five percent of the total population of these parishes taking communion during a given year (15). Several other reports reveal similarly low rates of participation, for example, just 125 of 400 adults in a particular English village took Easter communion late in the eighteenth century; there were also “much smaller attendances” in other villages (16). Stark maintains that if these were statistics from the twentieth century, secularization proponents would be citing them “routinely as proof of massive secularization.”

Further, if one is to use 1800 as a benchmark, then church membership in Britain is substantially higher today than it was then. In 1800, only twelve percent of the population belonged to a specific religious congregation, although this rose to seventeen percent in 1850 and then stabilized all the way to 1900. Mark Smith, in his study of religious participation in the British communities of Oldham and Saddleworth, found there to be no change between 1740 and 1865 in membership, despite this being a period of intense industrialization (17).

Admittedly, although Laurence Lennaccone’s historical reconstruction evidences a decline in church attendance in Britain during the twentieth century, this finding is challenged by the lack of similar declines in most other European nations and by studies suggesting recent increases in church participation in lower-class, British, urban neighbourhoods which have long been noted for their very low rates of attendance (18). Stark suggests that this is not unexpected given religious variation, namely increases and decreases of religiousness in societies. In contrast, claims made the proponents of the strong version are “incompatible with either stability or increase: it requires a general, long-term pattern of religious decline” (19). Other evidence confronts Lennaccone’s reconstruction, such as French Catholics participating far more willingly and frequently in their religion in the twentieth century than 200 years ago (20).

Some of Lennaccone’s other work also conflicts with extreme secularization. During the twentieth century, survey data Lannaccone used to reconstruct church attendance rates for eighteen (mostly) European nations beginning in 1920 detected no trends consonant with the strong version. It was only in three of the eighteen countries (these being East Germany, Slovenia, and Great Britain) where downward trends could potentially be claimed to support secularization. According to Stark, “the British trend may already have been reversed, while the declines in Slovenia and East Germany began with the imposition of Communist regimes” (21). Indeed as Stark concludes concerning the argument from the myth of past piety, participation may be low today in many Western nations but this is not because of modernization or secularization; instead, it has just always been that way.

The Failure to Christianize

Stark’s argument from the failure to Christianize is that the presence and embrace of the Christian religion in Europe during the Medieval era has been significantly exaggerated. It is this exaggerated version that is false yet has been used to support the secularization of modern European societies.

It is clear that in the fourth century CE Christianity swept through the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine. By the middle of that century, the majority of the population had probably converted to Christianity. However, the early church failed to Christianize the outer reaches of the Empire and the rest of Europe. Stark elucidates,

“The Christianity that triumphed over Rome was a mass social movement in a highly competitive environment. The Christianity that subsequently left most of Europe only nominally converted, at best, was an established, subsidized, state church that sought to extend itself, not through missionizing the population, but by baptizing kings (Davies 1996: 275) and then canonizing them as national saints (Vauchez 1997). That is, the Christianity that prevailed in Europe was an elaborate patchwork of state churches that settled for the allegiance of the elite and for imposing official requirements for conformity, but that made little sustained effort to Christianize the peasant masses (Duffy 1987; Greeley 1995). Thus, it isn’t merely that the state churches of Scandinavia and northern Europe currently lack the motivation and energy to fill their churches, they have always been like this. The ‘Christianization” of a Norse kingdom, for example, often involved little more than the baptism of the nobility and legal recognition of the ecclesiastical sovereignty of the church. This left the task of missionizing the masses to a “kept” clergy whose welfare was almost entirely independent of mass assent or support, with a predictable lack of results” (22).

Evidence from several European nations supports this. Denmark, for example, was the first “Christian” nation in the north, largely credited to a succession of Knut the Great in 1016. This date is taken as the “official” date of the Christianization of Denmark. However, most historians do not equate this with the Christianization of the Danish population (23). Christianity was slow to develop and occurred only gradually. Neither were the conversions of the monarchs “the result of popular demand” (24).

Next came the “Christianization” of Norway after Olaf Tryggvason took the throne in 995 and attempted to covert the country by force, killing some who resisted and burning their estates. Such persecution and other repressive measures produced opposition strong enough to defeat and kill him in the Battle of Svolder around 1000 CE. Olaf Haraldsson, just fifteen years later, conquered Norway and too used force to compel Christianization. He was driven into exile after facing a rebellion, although he would later try to return with a new army only to meet his end at the Battle of Stikklestad in 1030. Despite this, Olaf Haraldsson was canonized as St. Olaf and is credited with the Christianization of Norway.

The conversion of Iceland was also followed a somewhat similar pattern as both Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf Haraldsson forced conversion in their colony. In the year 1000, the Icelanders gave in to Norwegian pressure and adopted the law “that all people should become Christian and those who here in the land were yet unbaptized should be baptized.” The law also read that the “people might sacrifice to the old gods in private” (25). Despite paganism being outlawed, many of paganism’s features were still embraced by the people and the country’s Christianization never resulted in more than minimal participation in church.

Sweden and its court remained pagan into the twelfth century and Finland remained pagan until the thirteenth (26). There seems to have been a lack of effort to Christianize the general population as no missionaries were sent to the Lapps until the middle of the sixteenth century. It is unclear when exactly popular paganism actually fell away in Scandinavia. In some places it never entirely disappeared.

Adam of Bremen, a Christian missionary to Scandinavia, wrote about the pagan ceremonies (including human sacrifices) conducted at the pagan temple of Uppsala (Sweden) in the eleventh century. It seems that the Norse “converted” to Christianity by including Christ and Christian saints (especially Olaf) into the pagan pantheon. In the Icelandic Landnumabok, Helgi the Lean, a Viking, “was very mixed in his faith; he believed in Christ, but invoked Thor in matters of seafaring and dire necessity” (27). In fact, there was a “natural resistance” at the lower scale of society, which led to the gradual conversion of Scandinavia. Christianity became a strange amalgam, including many pagan traditions and celebrations, some of them only thinly Christianized (28). According to the late sociologist Andrew Greeley, Christian commitment was never deep enough in northern Europe to produce much mass attendance, nor “deep enough to survive changes in the religious affiliation of their political leaders during the Reformation, sometimes back and forth across denominational lines” (30).

Religion in “Secular” Countries

Stark argues that accumulated research supports the notion of “believing without belonging.” According to Michael Winter and Christopher Short, “most surveys of religious belief in northern Europe demonstrate continuing high levels of belief in God and some of the more general tenets of the Christian faith but rather low levels of church attendance” (31). This data has “revealed a relatively, and perhaps surprisingly, low level of secularization.” According to Stark, this subjective religiousness “remains high in the nations most often cited as examples of secularization, places where it is claimed that people have outgrown religion for good” (32). Stark examines the often-cited example of Iceland, often claimed to be the first-ever fully (or nearly fully) secularized country.

This claim is made in light of the country’s empty churches where only a mere two percent attend weekly. However, be this as it may, Iceland’s secularization is strongly contradicted by other research, notably William Swatos’s fieldwork (33). Swatos discovered high levels of in-the-home religion in the country, high rates of baptism, and that nearly all weddings occur in church. He also noted that “affirmations of personal immortality are typical”, such as in newspaper obituaries usually written by a close friend of the deceased rather than by a news writer. Further, the 1990 World Values Surveys reported that 81 percent of Icelanders are confident that there is life after death, 88 percent believe in the human soul, and 40 percent believe in reincarnation. Regarding prayer to God, 82 percent said they prayed sometimes and one in four did so “often.” Only 2.4 percent of Icelanders claimed to be “convinced atheists.” Further, spiritualism is widespread in Iceland, popular even among leading intellectuals and academics (34). In light of these data, that Iceland is a secularized nation is a claim strongly contradicted by the facts.

Religion and Science

As noted earlier, if what the extreme secular proponents are claiming is true then we would expect secularization to show most strongly among scientists. Stark, however, contends that the evidence does not support scientists being any more irreligious, or any less likely to attend church, compared to the general public. Stark writes,

“Even more revealing is the fact that among American academics, the proportion who regard themselves as religious is higher the more scientific their field. For example, physical and natural scientists, including mathematicians, are more than twice as likely to identify themselves as “a religious person” as are anthropologists and psychologists (Stark et al. 1996, 1998). But, aren’t some scientists militant atheists who write books to discredit religion – Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan, for example? Of course. But, it also is worth note that most of those, like Dawkins and Sagan, are marginal to the scientific community for lack of significant scientific work. And possibly even more important is the fact that theologians (cf., Cupitt 1997) and professors of religious studies (cf., Mack 1996) are a far more prolific source of popular works of atheism” (35).

Several studies are used in support of these claims. In 1914 the American psychologist James Lueba forwarded questionnaires to a random sample of persons listed in American Men of Science. They were asked to select one of the following statements “concerning belief in God”:

[1] I believe in a God to whom one may pray in the expectation of receiving an answer. By “answer,” I mean more than the subjective, psychological effect of prayer.
[2] I do not believe in God as defined above.
[3] I have no definite belief regarding this question.

Before we look at the survey’s results it must be noted that there are good reasons to question Lueba’s survey. For one, Leuba’s standard for belief in God based on these questions is so strict and narrow that it would exclude a substantial portion of mainline clergy. Stark maintains that Lueba’s phrasing of the questions was obviously intentional on his part, for he wished to demonstrate scientists to be irreligious. Consider how stringent this standard for belief in God is in light of a 1968 sample of Protestant clergy in California. According to this study, just 45 percent of pastors of the United Church of Christ agreed to: “I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it” (36). Of Methodist clergy, 52 percent agreed. Criterion aside, to his dismay, Leuba found that 41.8 percent of his sample of prominent scientists selected option one. 41.5 percent selected the second option (Leuba acknowledged that many in this category likely believed in a somewhat less active God), and 16.7 percent took the third option. Such results were not what Leuba had expected and hoped for. He nonetheless claimed believers not to be in the majority and that his data foresaw a rejection of “fundamental dogmas – a rejection apparently destined to extend parallel with the diffusion of knowledge” (37).

Edward Larson and Larry Witham replicated Leuba’s study in 1996 and found that 39.3 percent of eminent scientists selected option one, which is not significantly different from the 41.8 percent who did so in 1914 (38). Furthermore, 45.3 percent chose option two and 14.5 percent took the third. Thus, over an 82-year period, there had been no decline in a literal belief in God among scientists.

Eastern Revivals

The collapse of the Soviet Union had numerous consequences, one of which was to reveal the failure of seventy years of dedicated efforts to indoctrinate atheism in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet territory. As Andrew Greeley put it,

“Never before in human history has there been such a concerted effort to stamp out not merely a religion, but all trace of religion… Atheistic Communism thought of itself as pushing forward the inevitable process of secularization in which religion would disappear from the face of the earth – a process which, in perhaps milder form, is an article of faith for many dogmatic social scientists” (39).

However, despite such efforts, atheists there are few and barely more prevalent in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe or in the United States. In the majority of these countries, most people pray, while by 1990 church attendance had recovered to levels comparable to Western Europe. Church attendance also continues to rise, as do other forms of religiousness. In Hungary, for instance, monthly church attendance rose from 16 percent in 1981 to 25 percent in 1991 and the percent attending less than once a year declined from 62 percent to 44 percent. Hungarians who said they were “convinced atheists” fell from 14 percent to 4 percent. Furthermore, in Russia, 53 percent of respondents said they were not religious in 1991. Just five years later this fell to 37 percent. Fast forward into the twentieth century and only 13 percent of Russians identify as atheists.

Islam and Secularization

Stark now shifts his focus from religion in Western nations to religious trends in Islam. Stark maintains that “In extraordinary contradiction to the secularization doctrine, there seems to be a profound compatibility of the Islamic faith and modernization – several studies from quite different parts of the world suggest that Muslim commitment increases with modernization!” (40). We must observe the secular proponent’s claims in light of secularization’s perceived universal applicability.

Studying Muslims in Java, Joseph Tamney discovered religious commitment to be positively correlated with education and occupational prestige (41). In other words, persons who attended college and/or were in high-status jobs were much more likely to pray the required five times a day, to give alms, and to fast in accord with orthodox Islamic practice than were Muslims with little education and/or low-status occupations. Recognizing the implications of these findings, Tamney implied that Muslim practice would increase as modernization continued to progress. He later observed the “resilience” of religion illustrated in its adjust to challenges of modernity.

A study of the leading Muslim “fundamentalist” movement in Pakistan found the leaders to be highly educated, all having advanced degrees (42). Further, the movement’s supporters came overwhelmingly from “the new middle class.”

In Turkey, since 1978 there has been a marked increase in the proportion of students at the University of Ankara who hold orthodox Islamic beliefs (43). By 1991 the overwhelming majority of students held to these views. For example, in 1978, 36 percent of students firmly believed “there is a Heaven and a Hell”, a number which jumped to 75 percent in 1991. Significantly, these students are the political and intellectual future of the country, including its future scientists and engineers. Further, Turkey is arguably the most modernized of Islamic nations and has since the 1920s experienced many decades of state secularity and semi-official irreligion, although these policies have waned in recent times.

Asian “Folk” Religions

Following the Second World War, many were expecting major changes in Asian religions, especially in Japan and in the rapidly westernizing locations of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. It was also anticipated that the traditional and magical “folk” religions in these places would rapidly give way to modernity (44). John Nelson predicted that Japan’s “Shinto religious practices would seem a highly likely candidate for extinction within Japan’s high-tech consumer society” (45). However, today Shinto beliefs are very alive in Japan: “it is commonplace that new cars be blessed at a [Shinto] shrine, that new residences, offices, or factories be built after exorcism ceremonies purify and calm the land and its deity, that children are dedicated there” (46). According to Stark, “Shinto rituals seem to play a more prominent role in Japan today than in the pre-World War II days, back when the Emperor was thought to be divine and Shinto was the state religion” (47).

Further, in Taiwan there are a greater number of folk temples than there were a century ago and a larger share of the population (around 70%) visit these temples than ever before (48). In Hong Kong, traditional Chinese folk religion flourishes. The Temple of Wong Tai Sin is a so-called “refugee god” that has been imported from China and has the largest following (49). In Malaysia, Chinese folk religion “continues to thrive” (50). This is particularly the case among the young, successful, educated urbanites, thus it is not limited to elderly, uneducated peasants (51).


Stark maintains that the above evidence reveals religious change. But as he maintains, religious change is expected and is not evidence of secularization,

“Of course, religion changes. Of course, there is more religious participation and even greater belief in the supernatural at some times and places than in others, just religious organizations have more secular power in some times and places than in others. Of course, doctrines change – Aquinas was not Augustine, and both would find heresy in the work of Avery Dulles. But change does not equate with decline!… Indeed, what is needed is a body of theory to explain religious variation, to tell us when and why various aspects of religiousness rise and fall, or are stable (Stark 1998b). In that regard, the secularization theory is as useless as a hotel elevator that only goes down” (52).

Stark has throughout maintained the evidence does not support secularization, so we can summarize the strands as follows: [1] No fewer Western people today attend church today than was the case during the Middle Ages; [2] religious belief is no less prevalent in the contemporary West than was the case during the Middle Ages; [3] the piety of historical Western European societies has been greatly exaggerated, which renders it objectionable as a point of comparison to the religiosity of modern Western European societies; [4] the “Christianization” of parts of Europe has been exaggerated and was not nearly as omnipresent as commonly assumed; [5] so-called secular countries are not in fact secular given the evidence of their internal religiosity; [6] scientists are no more irreligious today than they have ever been over the past century; [7] religion has experienced significant revival in countries where atheism and secularism were previously forced on the population through violent and coercive state means; and [8] secularization is mistakenly universalized, which is disproven by religion’s vitality in Muslim countries.

Peter Berger, a once ardent proponent of the secularization theory, has come to realize how he and many sociologists of religion have been mistaken,

“Our underlying argument was that secularization and modernity go hand in hand. With more modernization comes more secularization. It wasn’t a crazy theory. There was some evidence for it. But I think it’s basically wrong. Most of the world today is not secular. It’s very religious” (53).

And so after nearly three centuries of failed prophesies and misrepresentations, suggests Stark, it seems time to carry the secularization doctrine to the graveyard of failed theories, and there to whisper “requiescat in pace.”


1. Crawley, A. E. 1905. The Tree of Life. London: Hutchinson.

2. Wallace, Anthony. 1966. Religion: An Anthropological View. New York: Random House.

3. Stark, Rodney. 1999. “Secularization, R.I.P.” Sociology of Religion 60(3):249-273. p. 252.

4. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 254.

5. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 254.

6. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 254.

7. Davie, Grace. 1990b. “Believing without belonging: Is this the future of religion in Britain?” Compass 37:455-69.

8. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 263.

9. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 255.

10. Fletcher, R. 1997. The Barbarian Conversion. New York: Holt. p. 476.

11. On the Teaching of Preachers, quoted by Stark (1999). Ibid. p. 265.

12. Brooke, R., and Brooke, C. 1984. Popular Religion in the Middle Ages. London: Thames and Hudson.

13. Thomas, K. 1971. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Scribner’s.

14. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 258-259.

15. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 259.

16. Laslett, P. 1965. The world we have lost. London: Keagan Paul.

17. Smith, M. 1996. Religion in industrial society: Oldham and Saddleworth 1740-1965. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

18. Smith, G. 1996. “The unsecular city: The revival of religion in East London.” In Rising in the East: The regeneration of East London, edited by T. Butler and M. Rustin. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

19. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 259.

20. Le Bras, G. 1963. “Dechristianisation: Mot fallacieus.” Social Compass 10:448-5 1.

21. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 260.

22. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 260-261

23. Br0ndsted, J. 1965. The Vikings. Baltimore: Penguin. p. 310. Sawyer, P. 1982. Kings and Vikings: Scandinavia and Europe, AD 700-1100. London: Methuen. p. 139.

24. Sawyer, P. 1982. Ibid. p. 139.

25. Byock, J. L. 1988. Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 142.

26. Sawyer, P. 1982. Ibid.; Br0ndsted, J. 1965. Ibid.

27. Br0ndsted, J. 1965. Ibid. p. 306.

28. Davies, N. 1996. Europe: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

29. Davies, N. 1996. Ibid. p. 66.

30. Greeley, Andrew. 1989. Religious change in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 199.

31. Winter, Michael., and Short, Christopher. 1993. “Believing and belonging: Religion and rural England.” British Journal of Sociology 44: 635-651.

32. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 264.

33. Swatos, William. 1984. “The Relevance of Religion: Iceland and Secularization Theory.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 23: 32-43.

34. Swatos, W. H., and Gissurarson, L. R. 1997. Icelandic Spiritualism: Mediumship and Modernity in Iceland. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

35. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 265.

36. Stark, R., Foster, B. D., Glock, C. Y., and Quinley, H. E. 1971. Wayward Shepherds: Prejudice and the Protestant clergy. New York: Harper & Row.

37. Leuba, James. 1921. The Belief in God and Immortality. Chicago: Open Court. p. 280.

38. Larson, E. J., and Withan, L. 1997. “Belief in God and immortality among American historical survey revisited.” Nature 386:435.

39. Greeley, Andrew. 1994. “A Religious Revival in Russia?” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 33:253-272. p. 253.

40. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 267.

41. Tamney, Joseph. 1979. “Established Religiosity in Modern Society: Islam in Indonesia.” Sociological Analysis 40:125-135; Tamney, Joseph. 1980. “Fasting and Modernization.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 19:129-137.

42. Ahmad, M. 1991. “Islamic Fundamentalism in South Asia: The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Tablighi Jamaat of South Asia.” In Fundamentalisms Observed, edited by M. E. Marty and R. Appleby, 457-528. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

43. Mutlu, Kayhan. 1996. “Examining Religious Beliefs Among University Students in Ankara.” British Journal of Sociology 47:353-359. p. 355.

44. Chen, H. 1995. The Development of Taiwanese Folk Religion, 1683-1945. Ph.D. diss., University of Washington; Tan, C. 1994. “Chinese religion.” In Religions sans Frontieres, edited by R. Cipriani, 257-289. Rome: Dipartimento per L’Informazione e Editoria.

45. Nelson, John. 1992. “Shinto Ritual: Managing Chaos in Contemporary Japan.” Ethnos 57:77-104. p. 77.

46. Nelson, John. 1992. Ibid. p. 77.

47. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 268

48. Chen, H. 1995. Ibid.

49. Lang, G., and Ragvold, L. 1993. The Rise of a Refugee God: Hong Kong’s Wong Tai. Oxford University Press.

50. Tan, C. 1994. Ibid. p. 274.

51. Chen, H. 1995. Ibid.; Tan, C. 1994. Ibid; Lang, G., and Ragvold, L. 1993. Ibid; Nelson, John. 1992. Ibid.

52. Stark, Rodney. 1999. Ibid. p. 269.

53. Berger, Peter. 1997. “Epistemological modesty: An interview with Peter Berger.” Christian Century 114: 972-975. p. 974.



  1. […] This article emerges after its author read several times sociologist of religion Rodney Stark’s influential essay and critique of the secularization thesis, Secularization, R.I.P. (1999). This author could not help but draw parallels from the research provided by Stark to the agitated New Atheists and anti-theists of the past two decades or so. If readers want a full breakdown of Stark’s essay, please consult this article. […]

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