1993 Volume 20 Issue 2 Pages 187-207
The secularization thesis contends that religious affiliation and religious commitment (religious faith) decline as a nation undegoes industrialization, being supplanted, at least in part, by the growing impact of science and technology. But the secularization thesis is by no means universally accepted. The present paper attempts to verify the secularization thesis in five industrialized nations by identifying characteristics common to those who have and do not have religious commitment, by determining how religious values and issues differ among the principal denominations and between them and those not religiously affiliated, and by identifying the importance of religion vis-à-vis other elements of everyday life. A subset of questions from general social attitude surveys in the five nations (Federal Republic of Germany, France, The United Kingdom, the United States and Japan) was used for Multivariate Descriptive Analysis. Religious commitment and its absence were found to have differing, and often opposing, impacts on social and religious values and issues in most or all of the five nations, particularly with regard to respect for ancestors, respondent's age, home as a place to relax and feel good, and opinions about marriage. For those with religious commitment, filial piety and leading a pure and just life were significant, whereas for those without religious commitment, individual freedom was significant. The church was identified as important in both the United States and Federal Republic of Germany, thereby drawing into question the secularization thesis in those two nations. Indeed, for Americans in particular the church seems to have a cohesive quality in providing a means for individuals to get involved in their communities. It has been suggested that the declines seen in religious affiliation and commitment may actually be rooted in deteriorating sense of community rather than in deteriorating traditional beliefs. Further study of a longitudinal nature is suggested, particularly one using a means like cohort analysis, to pursue stronger validation or invalidation of the secularization thesis.