Did urbanization secularize Britain?

Brown, C.G. (1988) Did urbanization secularize Britain? Urban History Yearbook, 15, pp. 1-14. (doi: 10.1017/S0963926800013882)

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There are few issues in British history about which so much unsubstantiated assertion has been written as the adverse impact of industrial urbanization upon popular religiosity. Urban history undergraduates are plied each year with the well-worn secularizing interpretation of urban growth which emanated with the Victorians (mostly churchmen) and which has since been reassembled by modern investigators in forms suitable for digestion in ecclesiastical history, social history (Marxist and non-Marxist), historical sociology, and historical geography. This ‘pessimist’ school of thought has reigned virtually unchallenged since the nineteenth century, giving rise in its endless repetition to simplistic historiographical myths. Arguably, systematic inquiry has suffered because modern urban society has been regarded as inimical to religion. An important start to disentangling the web of confusion has already been made by Jeff Cox in his admirable but underrated The English Churches in a Secular Society, a study of Lambeth between 1870 and 1930. 'In the first and final chapters of that book, Cox commenced the assault on the ‘pessimist’ school, pointing out in necessarily blunt language the illogicality and empirical weakness in the arguments of many historians and sociologists of religion. That book should have a reserved space on every reading list dealing with this issue. The present article attempts to expand on what might be called the ‘optimist’ school of thought concerning the impact of urbanization upon religion: that the churches survived urbanization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While Cox adduced from his research on the 1870–930 period that the great decline of the churches had not occurred before then, the following pages shift the focus to a reassessment of of the evidence on the preceding 100 years.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Brown, Professor Callum
Authors: Brown, C.G.
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HA Statistics
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Journal Name:Urban History Yearbook
Published Online:09 February 2009

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