While Portugal shows signs of secularization, the pattern of religious decline is far from uniform, with the Catholic Church enjoying greater social and media influence, according to Steffen Dix.
Throughout its history, the trajectory of secularization in Portugal has been anything but unidirectional, according to Dix, who presented a paper at the ASR conference in San Francisco. Even as early as the 19th century, the vigor of Catholicism was significantly weakened by liberalism and anticlericalism. At the start of the century, religious observance was down to about 10 percent of the population, mainly consisting of poor, elderly women in the rural north of Portugal.
But that situation was radically reversed starting in the 1920s, first as a reaction to the Republicans’ anti-religious policies and then through a Marian devotional revival sparked by the Fatima apparitions of 1917. The vigorous state of Catholicism in Portugal continued up until Vatican II and the 1974 revolution, then weakened, mainly through the increasing segmentation of religious belief and practice by region (secular south versus Catholic north), age groups, gender, levels of education and class. While today Catholicism is finding it difficult to revive religious practices and beliefs and transmit them to the younger generation, the church is finding influence in the fields of political, economic, ethical and aesthetic values “by means of a powerful presence in the media, demonstrating religious resistance against the ‘ideology’ of secularization and thereby remains a relevant factor in the construction of modern society in Portugal,” Dix writes.
By “modernizing and even secularizing itself and in its function to criticize some decisions in socio-cultural life and regulate popular religiosity, Portuguese Catholicism should be understood as an important forming factor of a modernity that is singular and typical only to the Portuguese … this country is three things at the same time: secular, religious and Catholic.”