Given the radical upheavals of the French revolution, the Enlightenment and the rise to prominence of philosophers and scientists a somewhat naïve view on history would be surprised to see religion still an issue in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From Nietzsche to Marx to Darwin it would seem that the mind of the nineteenth century has no need for religion at all. Thankfully, Owen Chadwick’s fascinating and exhaustive piece of historical scholarship provides no such naivety. Like Durkheim and Weber before him, Chadwick is primarily interested in the relationship between the religious and the social. Beginning with the axiom that "the religious is a social phenomenon" the entire first half of the book is devoted to the "social problem" as Chadwick explores the social forces in operation which both provoked and responded against the secularization of the time. As Chadwick understands it, the secularization of the mind is not simply a personal matter but rather something that must be placed in its social context. Thus, secularization is in many ways presented as a result of industrialization and liberalism, as the free market place for capitalism also produced a free market place for ideas and opinions. Coupled with the rise of a popular press that naturally focused more on the profane over the sacred and a political rather than theological anti-clericalism as well as the urbanization of modernization and secularity becomes something inextricable from its social and cultural contexts. Chadwick goes so far as to claim a statistical proof here – as urbanization increased so too did secularity. The larger the town, the smaller the percentage of churchgoers.
Chadwick also picks up on the paradoxical relationship between the religious and the secular – in pushing for the repeal of blasphemy laws or guarantees of free speech the religious upper-classes believed they would be helping to create a society that was more just, more moral, more pious and overall more Christian. In short, the church aimed to invoke liberal virtues in its own defense, thus contributing to the spread of secularity. What is encouraging about Chadwick’s work is that by placing secularity in the realm of how one lived rather than how one thought, religion is not necessarily framed as being incompatible with intellect or reason. Alongside this social history, Chadwick includes vital readings of thinkers including JS Mill and Marx, placing their thought into this social context of secularization. Chadwick’s illuminating and informative study rings with the authenticity of true scholarship – whilst exploring the decline of the Church’s power it also allows for the exploration of how theology and religion might still impact how men live, even in an ostensibly secular age.