The Americanization of British Religion

As I wrote last week, Americans think of Britain as a very secular place. I suppose most Britons do, too. Now and then, though, one gets the sense that religion, specifically Christianity, is not completely passé and may, in fact, be making a comeback. Peter Oborne has an interesting piece in The Telegraph this week, “The Return to Religion,” in which he argues that churchgoing is again becoming a “national pastime” in Britain, particularly in London. He gives several examples. Oborne attributes the renewed interest to economic austerity and the sense many Britons have that the materialism of the past generation has let them down.

I’m not sure what to make of this. Oborne may be looking at isolated examples. Or perhaps the rise in religion is only a temporary phenomenon that will be lost in the larger and more lasting move away from religion. We’ll just have to see.

One trend that is apparent in Oborne’s piece is how “American” British religion is becoming. Much of the new success results from American-style marketing. Anglican parishes no longer wait for neighborhood people to come: they reach out with niche programming like actors’ groups. “Church plants” like ChistChurch London, whose website makes it look a lot like an American urban evangelical megachurch, are increasingly prominent. Oborne also notes the rise of Pentecostalism, a form of Christianity that began in twentieth-century Los Angeles, which appeals to immigrants from Africa. Observers have been writing about the Americanization of world religion for some time; recent books by journalists John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, and by French scholar Olivier Roy, come to mind.  Oborne’s essay suggests that these writers are really on to something.

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