Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Professor Alan Black


Church-based religion in the western world is considered by many sociologists to be in decline. The causes of this decline have been linked to secularising processes such as institutional differentiation, urbanisation, industrialisation, and the rise of scientific rationalism. The primary research aim of this study is to identify what contribution the religious beliefs of individuals, their demographic characteristics, their work and leisure patterns, their attitudes and experiences of churches and their experience of the urban environment, make towards understanding patterns of non-participation and participation in local churches. A secondary research aim is to identify to what extent theories of secularisation and other theories of religious change receive support from these empirical findings, as well as from other social surveys and historical sources examined in the study. In order to address the primary research aim, a random sample, community survey was carried out. This survey included a wide range of questions covering the issues designated for research~ as well as eliciting stated reasons for non-participation. This survey differs from many others in that it was limited to selected local areas, enabling some assessment to be made of the impact of the physical characteristics of these local areas on church attendance patterns. Initially the data analysis focuses on bivariate relationships between particular characteristics of respondents and their extent of church participation. Thereafter, the data are subjected to multi-variate analysis, in order to identify the contribution of each variable while controlling for the effects of other variables. Path analysis and partial correlations are used to begin to identity the likely causal links between variables in the study. The study concludes that the certainty and salience of traditional religious beliefs and practices make the greatest contribution towards explaining patterns of church participation and non-participation. While the relationship between beliefs and nonparticipation can be shown to conform with secularisation theory, there are doubts about the direction of causality. There is evidence of the significant impact of religious socialisation during childhood on later patterns of participation and nonparticipation, and the likelihood of further declines in church attendance levels due to cohort differences. Many of the variables traditionally associated with conventional secularisation theory such as education, workforce involvement and aspects of urbanisation offer only a partial explanation of non-participation in church. By comparison, variables associated with leisure, material goals and the pursuit of happiness are more strongly related to church participation at the individual level. These provide evidence of other ways in which modernity interacts with religion to produce secularisation, apart from the rising tide of rationality associated with modernity.

Included in

Religion Commons