Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Completed Projects

Project Title:

Spatial differences in secularisation in Scotland

Project Number:



Jasper van Dijck (University of St Andrews)
Peteke Feijten (University of St Andrews)
Paul Boyle (University of St Andrews)

Start Date:

Approved on 22-01-2008


Western countries are going through a process of cultural change. The growing wealth over the last decades has spurred economic independence for individuals. Their overall dependence on other people and institutions has diminished. The modernization of society and the western ideology of individualism have influence on the demographic composition within countries. Not only the increase in wealth, but also in mobility and the global information network have opened new doors to regular members of society. They are less influenced by traditional ties and values that once shaped society. These trends are thought to have contributed to a substantial increase in secularisation in Western societies, hence also in Scotland.

Trends in secularisation are different between regions. Cities were first in the secularisation trend and nowadays secularisation is still higher in cities than in rural areas. The rationale behind this is that smaller communities are less influenced by the rising thought of liberalism and have stronger in-group cohesion. Theoretically, countrysiders would be more religious than individuals who live in an urban zone where liberal thought runs free and the boundaries of intermediate groups are less well defined.

A competing hypothesis is that spatial differences in secularisation are caused by selective migration: those who are religious may prefer to live in an environment with religious peers, and where religion plays an important role in daily life. This may stimulate them to move from cities to more rural areas. Conversely, those who reject religion may be inclined to move to cities because they are attracted by the more liberal attitudes and life styles that previal in urban areas.

The research question to be answered is: How does secularisation of individuals in Scotland differ by (type of) region, and why? It is expected that persons living in urban areas are more often secular than people living in rural areas. Two competing hypotheses will be tested to explain spatial differences in secularisation: a causation hypothesis and a selective migration hypothesis.

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