Research Paper Oxford University Discussion Paper in Economic and Social History 36
Variations in Churchgoing Rates in England in 1851: supply-side deficiency or demand-led decline?
01 Aug 2000
In the sociology of religion of the past thirty years or so, one can identify three major approaches to the relation of religion and modernity: secularization theory, the Stark-Bainbridge rational choice theory, and the Finke-Stark 'supply-side' theory. In this paper, I study churchgoing rates in England in 1851 to examine which of these three theoretical approaches appears the most valid. Victorian England provides a compelling case study. Not only are the data very good (uniquely so in the case of Britain), but also England in 1851 takes us back to one of the original locales of urban-industrial development. My conclusion is that both 'supply-side' (of religion) and 'secularization' processes were influencing English churchgoing rates in 1851. However, the former were much more limited and transient in their effect, being restricted to isolated rural areas. In the more urban places, where most people lived, secularization processes were operating. There are parallels between this 'duality' of process operating in rural and urban England in 1851 and the fact that churchgoing appears to have increased during the nineteenth century up to that point, but declined, unabated, thereafter.
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