When was secularization? Dating the decline of the British churches and locating its cause

Steve Bruce, Tony Glendinning

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23 Citations (Scopus)


Dating the decline of Christianity in Britain has a vital bearing on its explanation. Recent work by social historians has challenged the sociological view that secularization is due to long-term diffuse social processes by asserting that the churches remained stable and popular until the late 1950s and that the causes of decline lie in the social and cultural changes associated with the 1960s. We challenge this interpretation of the evidence. We also note that much of the decline of the churches is explained not by adult defection but by a failure to keep children in the faith. Given the importance of parental homogamy for the successful transmission of religious identity, the causes of decline in one generation may well lie in the experiences of the previous generation. We focus on the disruptive effects of the 1939–45 war on family formation and use survey data to argue for a staged model of decline that is compatible with the conventional gradual view of secularization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-126
Number of pages20
JournalThe British Journal of Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010



  • secularization
  • religious intermarriage
  • church decline

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