The Rise of Secularism and the Decline of Religiosity in Ireland: The Pattern of Religious Change in Europe

By Michael J. Breen and Caillin Reynolds.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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The European Values Study is a pan-European project which utilises an omnibus
survey focusing especially on values associated with work, religion, lifestyles and other issues. Its most recent data gathering exercise was in 2008, the fourth of its kind.
This study focuses on changing religious values in Ireland over the span of the EVS (1981-2008) and examines the rise in secularism and the rapid decrease in church participation, which brings Ireland much close to European norms.
The data to hand suggest a variety of important social questions: If religious and social values and attitudes are changing, what are the implications for Irish society? As we become an increasingly educated society in quantifiable terms, what is happening to our value and belief systems? Does the erosion of church practice mean the erosion of values or are we simply witnessing transference of allegiance from institutions to self?
Some commentators suggest that reduction of care and concern for others, a reduced sense of God, and a minimised approach to things religious, allied with a rise in liberalism, are not of themselves harbingers of prosperity and joy for society; the opposite they contend is true, and will result in decreased happiness and increased alienation.
Is it incontrovertible that Ireland will be different in the future, that the social map will have very different contours, especially in relation to institutional religion. As the Irish let go of things deeply rooted in their culture and tradition, is this simply a matter of becoming a mature nation amongst the nations of Europe?

Keywords: Religion, Europe, European Values Study, Values, Church Practice, Spirituality, Secularization

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.195-212. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 829.225KB).

Dr. Michael J. Breen

Dean of Arts, Faculty of Arts, University of Limerick, Limerick, Munster, Ireland

Professor Michael J. Breen is Dean of Arts at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Ireland. He holds undergraduate degrees from University College Dublin (Philosophy) and the University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome (Theology). He completed his M.S. and Ph.D. at Syracuse University. Professor Breen is the national director for Ireland of the European Values Study and director of the Centre for Culture, Technology and Values at Mary Immaculate College. He is a past Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences Research Fellow. He is currently the Irish representative of the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Social Survey. His books include A Fire in the Forest: Religious life in Ireland (2001) Veritas Publications: Dublin and The Influence of Mass Media on Divorce Referenda in Ireland (2010) Edwin Mellen Press: Lampeter, UK.

Caillin Reynolds

PhD Student, Media and Communication Studies, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Munster, Ireland

Caillin Reynolds is a Ph.D. student at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick. He holds a Masters in Sociology (Applied Social Research) from the University of Limerick, and a BA (Hons.) from NUI Galway. He served as fieldwork co-ordinator for the 2008 wave of the European Values Study in Ireland.