Contemporary sociologists have judged that “any sociological study of Ireland must reflect the importance of religion in the shaping of our contemporary society, its continuing relevance in terms of everyday social life and the still central role of religious institutions” (Tovey and Share, 2003, p. 384).
This observation, however, runs counter to the belief that was a cultural shift in all Western societies which started in the period of the Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, which introduced a whole new set of scientific tools. Max Weber, Émile Durkheim and other early proponents of the new discipline of sociology described evidence of a shift away from religion and towards rationalisation. The term “secularization” is used to describe this change, and the “secularization thesis” is a belief that religion will slowly fade in the face of new scientific, and by implication better, ways of seeing the world. This paper shows, however, that there is evidence in the recent history and sociology of Ireland to prove that the secularization thesis does not hold, since contemporary Ireland fully reflects modern cultural trends and yet it is by no means an increasingly secular country. Origins of the secularization thesis. In the Middle Ages, a Christian world view dominated the whole of Europe, with close links being maintained between Church and State, and other religions such as Judaism and Islam being classed as outsiders. Secular monarchs reigned in the firm belief that they had a divine right to rule, and they often used their powers to enhance the dominance of the Christian Church, leading to the Crusades and the demonization of other faiths and other nation states. The reformation polarised Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity so that in Europe, at least, religion became associated with conflict between factions within Europe. Ireland played a decisive role in the early stages of the Christian colonisation of Europe, and Ireland’s continual loyalty to Rome in the face of British rebellion is a reflection of political differences as much as it is a religious position. The relationship between Church and State remains close in Ireland, since there was no split between the monarch and Rome, and this explains the influence that religions continues to have at the present time on Irish political and social affairs. In Victorian Britain and Imperial Germany the protestant work ethic was credited with producing the beginnings of the capitalist system, and Karl Marx theorized religion in this context as a logical an necessary part of this culture of trade and industry. In the analyses of Marx, Engels and Lenin, religion was a thriving force to be reckoned with, and they very much supported the underlying motivations that led people to put their faith in it: “Religion is a many-faceted reflection of the real world, including deep-seated human needs for security, consolation, and beauty. They (Marx, Engels and Lenin) do not want to take away from people the solace, comfort of beauty that religion brings to their lives … religious beliefs are not merely illusory; they stand in the way of man’s mastering both nature and his social relations in the interests of a better and fuller life” ( Selsam and Martel, 1987, p. 225). A combination of these political ideas,