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The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800-2000 [Paperback]

Callum G. Brown
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

11 Feb 2009

The Death of Christian Britain examines how the nation’s dominant religious culture has been destroyed. Callum Brown challenges the generally held view that secularization was a long and gradual process dating from the industrial revolution. Instead, he argues that it has been a catastrophic and abrupt cultural revolution starting in the 1960s. Using the latest techniques of gender analysis, and by listening to people's voices rather than purely counting heads, the book offers new formulations of religion and secularization.

In this expanded second edition, Brown responds to commentary on his ideas, reviews the latest research, and provides new evidence to back his claims.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (11 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415471346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415471343
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 16.5 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 138,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

The Church is dying, says Callum Brown. So, what's new? The difference, according to The Death of Christian Britain is in how long it's taken to reach the point of no return. Secularisation theory--which emerged with the social sciences in the 19th century--was obsessed with the numbers of people (not) attending church, and was seized upon by Christians as the Industrial Revolution spread to illustrate how godforsaken our cities were becoming, even then. Yet Brown argues this "authorised version" is mistaken. According to him, secularisation began when the Beatles were releasing their first single in 1962. Instead of counting heads, he draws on anecdotal and cultural references to argue that Christianity was alive and well until the swinging sixties. It just wasn't going to church...

He sheds fascinating (and sympathetic) light on the history of conversion, of social action and the Church's public role in the nation. And his use of gender theory in the study of religion could be revolutionary. This may be a text book, but it engages the mind and the soul. Sociologists and Christians in particular will be positively challenged to think harder. For "the Britain of the new millennium is showing the world how religion as we have known it can die". This is bound to unnerve Christians. Many might even take issue with the title, and refuse to read on. But to do so would be folly: a week spent immersed in Brown's book could reap substantially more fruit than a series of revival meetings. --Brian Draper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Callum Brown is Professor of Religious and Cultural History at the University of Dundee. His publications include Religion and Society in Twentieth-Century Britain (2006) and Postmodernism for Historians (2005).


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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The New Bigots 8 Aug 2012
By Neutral VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Callum Brown's book is 'about the death of Christian Britain - the demise of the nation's core religious and moral identity'. He argues that 'quite suddenly in 1963 something very profound ruptured the the character of the nation and its people, sending organised Christianity on a downward spiral to the margins of social significance.' His purpose is to discover how the British absorbed Christianity into their lives in the nineteenth and twentieth centuires then stopped doing so from the 1960s. He suggests respectability has been supplanted by respect and moral criticism by toleration and greater freedom to live our lives in the way which we choose. The collapse in the bulk of the Christian churches has not been experienced by immigrant populated churches and the search for spiritual values has found expression in various cults, including New Age groups. Modern British society is one in which residual Christian belief has not been matched by church attendance.

Brown questions the validity of the theory of secularisation as an explanation of religious decline. The argument had been that secularisation 'was the handmaiden of modernisation, pluralisation, urbanisation and Enlightenment rationality'. Brown claims this argument was false because it relied on a social science definition of religion. The social science approach was theoretically neutral and based on empirical studies of formal or institutionalised religion which was 'reductionist to bipolarities'. However, religion itself was not confined to churchgoers and non-churchgoers or believers and non-believers. Social science structuralism has one set of explanation for statistics of religosity whereas individual identification of Christianity provides another.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Death of Christian Britain 3 May 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The author Callum Brown is an oral historian based at the university of Strathclyde. The overall thesis of the book is that contrary to the prevailing secularisation paradigm rooting British religious decline in the enlightenment Britain remained Christian until relatively recently; it was the post-1960s era that spelled the death of Christian Britain and the advent of vigorous secularisation. Consequently there is an emphasis on working-class religion and its mass popularity/propagation (ie. evangelicalism). By Christian Britain therefore, Brown does not mean the religious affiliations or otherwise of the statute makers and policy formers but primarily that of the working classes. Consequently Brown offers a vigorous analysis of both religious and secular media to highlight the prevalence of evangelical moral assumptions in forming the parameters of `respectability' for population at large. An important analysis is his two chapters on gender roles in Britain's religious life showing that Britain's women sustained the moral (Christian) worldview of evangelical/Victorian Britain more than its men. Consequently the realignment of women's sensibilities in post-1960s Britain has spelled the death of Christian Britain.

Overall this book should prove interesting for all those interested in the secularisation of Britain, Church history, the history of interaction of gender and religion/society and those interested in the history of evangelicalism.

However, whilst I understand the need why the book basically comprises of three-quarters pre-amble before one reaches the actual point (ie the 1960s and secularisation) which at times did grate. Also, it would have been interesting to see a wider ecclesiastical survey than the evangelicalism offered.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why religion died in the UK 1 Sep 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As an ex-christian I occasionally take an anthropological look back at the current status of Christianity. This book opened my eyes to a completely different perspective in religious studies, an oral history, post modernist, feminist analysis (Brown's own description of his method). Despite misgivings about the two latter movements as having credentials for such an analysis he convinced me that religion died in Britain because peoples' self description as existing within a religious discourse ended when women ceased to accept their role as keepers of the faith in the feminist swinging sixties. Put like that it sounds a bit simplistic but Brown backs up his analysis with impressive statistics and excerpts of oral history. The weak point in the argument comes when one tries to apply it outside Europe. Brown admits this and asks the obvious question, why hasn't religion died in North America? Well I hope that is the topic of his next book.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sex invented 1963: Christianity dies 8 April 2009
Format:Paperback
It happened in 1963. That's when Christianity in Britain died. Till I read this book I had wrongly thought in terms of a slow erosion of faith. In the late 19th C the unholy trinity of Darwin, Freud, and Marx had injected enough poison into European thought to kill the roots of traditional Christian faith even in Britain, the land of the Puritans and Wesley, and this was speeded up by liberal theology eager to bring religion in line with modern thinking. So by the outbreak of the First World War, the greenery was still visible, but the roots were weak. The first war, followed by the great crash, fascism, another war, and the holocaust then shouted from the rooftops, what the roots had long suggested: Christianity was dead. And so we move into the post Christian era. Brown shows this scheme of things to be wrong. Focusing on the period from 1800 to 1950 both the statistics and more importantly the print media - novels, magazines, tracts - he proves that Christianity was absolutely the dominating cultural force in Britain, and in contrast to the idea of an erosion of faith after the second war, church attendance actually rose in the 1950's, what he calls between 1945 - 1958, a `return to piety'. So what happened in 1963? The Hull librarian poet Larkin has part of the answer:

Sex was invented in 1963, between the Chatterley trial and the Beatles' first LP.

But it's a little bit more complicated than more sex and people turning their backs on traditional Christian morality. That has been happening furtively since the beginning of time. What was different in 1963 was the reaction of women. Brown shows that in the Christian culture women had played a crucial role of being the ones who tamed men and brought them into the church.
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