labourers in the latifundia areas of southern Spain is perhaps the most obvious example.
The most important point is the great range of variation in the levels of religious practice both within and between different countries. The explanation for these variations may be on the supply side as much as on the demand side. In other words, the shortage of clergy and church buildings in rapidly growing areas, whether towns or industrial villages, certainly created conditions in which the proportion of the population attending church fell dramatically. This explains the emphasis on church building in the Church of England in the middle third of the nineteenth century and the significance of the rise in clerical recruitment in that period; the same happened in the Nonconformist churches. Yet in recent years it has been argued that the major churches engaged in overbuilding in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, so it is not surprising that some of the new churches were less than half-full.45 Nevertheless, there is evidence of a falling away from religious practice altogether, particularly though not exclusively in towns. This became apparent through a failure to respond to the emphasis on more regular church attendance; but even the number of those attending for festivals in the lifecycle - baptisms, weddings, funerals -began to decline, though non-Christian funerals were the most difficult to arrange.
As significant as the level of religious practice, however, is how it was understood. Any detailed examination of popular religion shows that there is a mixture of orthodox and unorthodox conceptions of what religious duty involves. For example, popular conceptions of baptism often included what religious people would regard as superstition - that it was almost a kind of lucky charm or spell. Systematic evidence of this is often hard to secure, since the dominating interpretation of the meaning of religious festivals comes from official sources. At the end of his career Gabriel Le Bras stated that religious practice had 'social rather than properly and profoundly religious meaning'; he even rejected the term 'dechristianisation' because he thought that the 'ages of faith' were a myth, and he distinguished between social custom and personal conviction.46
The social institutions of Roman Catholic countries changed in the nineteenth century Lay brotherhoods declined in influence after the French Revolution in France and Germany; in some places they became almost exclusively
45 E.g. Gill, The myth of the empty church; Green, Religion in the age of decline.
46 Le Bras, L'eglise et la village, pp. 186, 191-2, quoted in Devlin, The superstitious mind, p. 4.
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