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Grant Akalonu
LEH 355
Secularization in America and Europe
Religion has always been an integral part of both modern and past societies. The concept
of religion has proven to be synonymous with culture in many ways, due to the fact that religion
has a heavy influence on culture, which directly or indirectly affects every aspect of our lives.
According to secularization theory, as a society continues to industrialize and make
technological advances and modernize, it relies less and less on religious beliefs for explanations
of phenomena. Also, religious beliefs become less powerful in government decisions such as
laws, and regulations. However, when comparing European and American societies, there is a
clear disconnect between secularization theory and how the role of religion has developed in
these two very technologically advanced societies. In the United States religion plays an integral
part in all aspects of life, including politics, law making and how Americans perceive each other.
In contrast, European countries seem to fit more with the secularization theory proposed by
Berger. The cause for the difference in the importance of religion in these societies can be
attributed to differing experiences with religion in these countries histories.
Today, religion is a substantial part of American culture, as it subtly affects every aspect
of our lives. Most notably, decisions regarding major political issues in America are greatly
influenced by dominant religious beliefs. As stated in the book Religion Matters, discussions of
issues such as war, education, foreign policy and the ethics of gay marriage and abortion are
often geared towards encouraging citizens to form their opinions based on religious beliefs. This
is evident in the religious demographics among voters who voted republican and democrat in


2008, as white evangelical Protestant voters heavily supported McCain and Palin, and the
majority of voting citizens who reported no religious affiliation voted for Obama (Pew Forum on
Religion and Public Life). It is of great importance to recognize the relationship between religion
and politics, because the more political influence a group has, the more influence they will have
over the government and its functions. Christianity is currently the dominant religion, as roughly
73 percent of Americans practice the religion, and about 48 percent claim to be Protestant ( Pew
Forum on Religion and Public Life).
The cause for the substantial amount of clout that the religion holds in the United States
can be found in in the country’s origins. As explained in the article, “Religion and National
Identity in America and Europe” by James Kurth the origins of American religious identity lie in
a reformed version of Protestantism. Kurth begins by chronicling the development of
Protestantism in the United States dating back to the 1600’s in Europe staring with the Protestant
reformation. After different variations of Protestantism were spread around Europe, colonists
brought the Protestant beliefs overseas and it became a dominant religion in North America.
Kurth continues, in the 18
century reform Protestantism began to evolve and divide into
dissenting churches of Methodists, Baptists, and Evangelicals. The main reason for the success
of these dissenting churches was the presence of the Western frontier, which made it easier for
churches to spread their beliefs across the country. As a result of the continuous development of
new variants of the same religion, religious pluralism became the foundation for the major laws
set in place by founding fathers, (freedom of religion). He goes on to explain, during the 19

century, since there were so many variants of religion from the same origin spread across the
country, there was no dominant religion that had political influence over the other. Rather, there
was a shared respect for different sects of Protestantism in the country. Also, as described by


Brian C. Anderson in his article “Secular Europe, Religious America”, religion and democracy
were inseparable in the country’s history, and that the country’s forefathers believed that the
religious beliefs they upheld was the reason for their success in the Revolutionary War, as shown
in this quote by Benjamin Rush: “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to
be laid in religion. Without it there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty,
and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments” (Rush on education, 1798). The
origins of religion in the United States shows that Protestantism has a been prominent religion
since its inception, and because the availability of so much uncharted western territory, the
United States was an ideal place for the spread of religion.
As data would support, religion does not have the same influence over people in Europe
compared to the United States. In the article, “Secular Europe, Religious America” by Brian C.
Anderson, the author cites statistics from research on the state of religion in European nations
which involved a “European Values Study” performed over several years. The results showed
that some of Europe’s biggest powers seemed to care the least for religion. In France, the study
showed that five percent of people attended a religious mass weekly, and most of those who
attended were elderly. Fifteen percent of Italians attended religious services weekly and thirty
percent of Germans attended church at least once a month (Anderson, 2004). Based on this
information, European countries do fit into the secularization theory. However, since America is
a country of similar technological advancements and great religious influence and does not, the
religious history in European countries must be examined and compared to that of America’s.
In European countries, religion has had a different impact on these countries’ histories
and on the development of the current state of religion in these countries. Unlike early
Americans, there was no avenue for a religious to marketplace develop because mega churches


sustained great power in European countries. It was impossible create a sense of plurality among
differing variants of a religion because there was only one specific form of religion that held
power in these countries. It was also much more difficult for those who held different beliefs to
simply move elsewhere like Americans. Due to the nature of monopolistic religious
governments, which inhibited any other form of religious expression, some individuals chose to
forget religion altogether, in their own way of protesting the power structure. This can be
considered as the foundation for the considerable amount of atheist philosophies and viewpoints
coming from European countries, especially from those in which powerful mega churches once
controlled all aspects of politics in the country (Kurth 2007). Religion served to be the
foundation of oppression in Europe, rather than the driving force to overcome it, as it was in
Secularization theory suggests that as a country progresses through the process of
modernization the level of importance of religion is expected to decrease because of increases in
technological and philosophical development. However, when explaining the difference in
religious importance in the United States and Europe, secularization theory becomes ineffective
in explaining why the United States, as technologically advanced as it is, holds religion to such a
high value compared to European countries of comparable technological advancements.
Exploring the history of religion in both countries, reveals that contemporary feelings towards
religions in both American and European countries reflect attitudes towards acquiring democracy
in the early stages of the countries’ histories. In early American times, a democratic nation was
believed to be one that respects the religion of other groups, and the Founding Fathers credited
religion for being a driving force for their success. In contrast, European nations led by one


domineering religion in their early years, associated democracy with breaking free from the
control of the dominant religion.