When I studied sociology, I was educated in an atmosphere where the secularization of society was broadly assumed to be ongoing, especially in modern and modernizing countries. Recently, as we can pick up from podcasts as well, somehow this assumption is not taken as self-explaining any more. BBC's Thinking Allowed picks up on this subject and introduces Professor David Voas and Dr. Tom Rees to speak on the subject.
First of all, Voas points out that since the US serve as a counter-example, as it is throughly modern, yet seems to be also very religious. He introduces to us a market theory of religion; religion serves a certain need for people and therefore in society individuals and groups will shop for it and pick up what they need. This still doesn't explain why the US and Europe, with such similar markets and social parameters, show such a different level of religiosity.
Tom Rees did research on the subject and tells of his findings. He thinks there might be a connection with income difference. In countries where the income differences are great and consequently economic safety is low, personal security is low and people tend to be more religious. Especially those affected by the insecurity are more prone to religion. Religion in this respect offers some security that the economic prospects do not offer.
More Thinking Allowed:
Renoir and Slumming,
The weekly social science stop,
Substance and Sociology,
Hole in the Wall.