Fewer and fewer believers in Italy and the West, will religion disappear? What could happen

In Italy during the 1900s we witnessed the separation between state and church and between state and religious school education. From the Istat survey Aspects of daily lifea (2001-2022), moreover, it emerged that in the last 20 years, the number of people in Italy who define themselves as “regular practitioners” (regardless of religion) has almost halved, going from 36% to 19%while I “never practicing” have in fact doubled from 16% to 31%.

Also in 2020, the Gallup analysis company recorded for the first time since 1937 that in the USA less than 50% of the Americans hang out a synagogue, a church or a mosque and the 21% do not recognize themselves in any religion (in 2000 they were 8%). We’re really seeing the disappearance of religion in Italy and in the West? The answer is not as simple as it would seem and requires first of all clarifying the concept of secularization.

Why there are fewer and fewer believers: the phenomenon of secularization

In the Western world, in the midst of industrialization, various sociological studies took hold to understand the change in societies and the loss of importance of traditional religions. This phenomenon was called secularization and envisaged, on the one hand, the differentiation and progressive autonomy between the secular aspects of social life and the religious ones and between secular and religious institutions (think of the State-Church separation in Italy and the birth of secular education); on the other, he saw the reduction of religious content in the arts, philosophy and literature and the parallel affirmation of science.

What could happen to religion: theories of secularization

The sociological studies that supported and continue to support the thesis according to which the process of secularization was or is a inevitable stage of human evolution have been criticized several times. In summary, these are theories and, as such, have strengths and weaknesses and may never come to pass. In short, however, it is possible to distinguish three theories of secularization he was born in new way of “living religion”:

  • Secularization as desacralization: according to this theory religion has the function of “explaining the world” by binding itself to irrational and supernatural elements; in current societies, however, these elements will progressively lose their centrality to make room for all that is rational and empirically demonstrable.
  • Secularization as privatization of religion: religion will be increasingly deprived of its moral function and will lose the ability to explain reality, retreating into people’s private sphere. According to Heelas, religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism, centered on God, will be replaced by “DIY religions”. In fact, in a Western world increasingly focused on the individual, religion will also become so. According to this vision, there will be less and less collective and public rituals and more and more individual religious practices (for example meditation).
  • Secularization as the secularization of religion: according to this perspective, religious values ​​will not disappear, but will be increasingly considered as secular values. Bellah talks, for example, about “civil religion”, to describe the characteristics of American culture which derive from the institutionalization of Christian values. Then there is the concept of “political religion” by Sironneau, which refers to the great ideologies of the 20th century (Marxism, National Socialism) such as equivalent of traditional religion.

In short, in Italy, as well as more generally in the West, we could more likely witness a change in religion rather than its disappearance. On the other hand, it is not certain that the process can vary over time and even reverse itself, transforming itself into the inverse phenomena of de-secularization and of re-secularization.