Vicarious religion: an examination and critique

Steve Bruce, David Voas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


The Christian churches have considerably declined in popularity, power, and prestige over the twentieth century in Britain and Europe. This decline has stimulated many attempts to characterise the attitudes towards religion of people who are neither involved with organised religion nor consciously opposed to it. Grace Davie has founded one such effort on the concept of 'vicarious religion'. The idea of vicarious religion rests on two principles: that a minority of people are religious on behalf of a silent majority and that those in the majority appreciate their efforts. We agree that examples of the phenomenon can be found, but we question whether popular sympathy for religion provides evidence for this conjecture. We review the various illustrations provided by Davie and offer alternative readings that seem more plausible. We also argue that the trajectory of change in marginal religious involvement seriously weakens its ability to diminish the evidence of secularisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-259
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Contemporary Religion
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2010


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