University of Leicester
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A secularising geography? : patterns and processes of religious change in England and Wales, 1676 - 1851

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posted on 2014-12-15, 10:44 authored by Alasdair Charles. Crockett
The aim of this thesis is to address the most important questions raised by the 1851 Census of Religious Worship, which was the only comprehensive census of religion in the history of the modern United Kingdom. The relationship between religion and society is clearly of general interest in all contexts, but perhaps attains a special importance in England and Wales between 1676 and 1851, a cradle of 'modernity'.;Secularisation theory proposes that the social significance of religion necessarily declines under conditions of modernity, yet sociologists have seldom investigated such claims with empirical rigour. Furthermore, historians have only paid limited attention to secularisation theory, and geographers have been altogether silent on the issue. This thesis aims to address these deficiencies in two stages. First, certain core propositions of secularisation theory are investigated using detailed empirical data. Secondly, secularisation theory is used as a basis for comprehending religious change in England and Wales. In this way context is used to evaluate theory, and then theory is used to illuminate context.;To realise these aims, extensive use is made of a very large historical dataset and geographical information system (compiled at both registration-district and parish level). The Religious Census data of 1851 - when combined with earlier religious sources, decennial census data, and other sources - provide a uniquely comprehensive and geographically sensitive basis with which to examine the connections between religion, society, culture and economy.;The results of considerable analysis is to argue that certain of the core propositions of secularisation theory were indeed manifest in England and Wales. The analysis highlights the fundamental importance of religious pluralism: over and above the more usually considered religious practice. It is shown that to pay conceptual and methodological attention to religious pluralism is to help explain the geography of religious practice, and what is usually described as a paradox of Victorian religion - revival and decline.


Date of award


Author affiliation

English Local History

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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