Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Who needs God?

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In our new issue, Tom Rees discusses the results of his research into the causes of religious belief, which suggests that there is a strong correlation between income inequality and religiosity. Here's a sample:
"We’re still a long way away from a universal theory to explain why some parts of the world are more religious than others. But the research linking societal stress and income inequality to high levels of religion at least helps to explain some conundrums that have perplexed sociologists. Why is the USA so religious, despite being the epitome of modernity? Well, largely because of the higher levels of stress faced by its citizens, compared with the relatively worry-free lives led by people living in the bosom of the European welfare state. It also helps to explain the blossoming of religion in Russia and other parts of the old Soviet bloc, which occurred against the backdrop of a sharp decline in living standards and the crumbling of the old certainties provided by the monolithic communist state."
Read the full piece, and let us know what you think by commenting on this post.


Anonymous said...

If it were true that higher levels of stress in the USA explained its higher scores on measures of religiosity, would we not expect the values on these measures to have risen over the past few years? In fact they appear to have been falling.

Tom Rees said...

All other things being equal, then yes. However, three things to bear in mind.

First, there's a lag phase. Religious attitudes are set in early adulthood. My analysis actually used average inequality over the past 30 years vs current religiosity.

Second, all other things aren't equal. Wealth, the mixture of different religions (due to immigration), and urbanization have all changed in directions the would reduce religiosity.

Third, there's a lot of other factors going on in any one individual country that can affect these stats. The association between inequality and religion is a broad one observed across many countries, but any given country will deviate somewhat from the general trend. In the US, for example, there seems to be a rebound rejection of religion because of the excesses of the fundamentalist movement.

Anonymous said...

I am Indian and wondered what your thoughts were on India regarding this topic. I did noticed that India was plotted above the line on your graph, consistent with popular belief of India as a highly religious, or some might say spiritual environment; meaning that the spiritual quest has a long and rich tradition in India. I believe that God and religion have a different meaning and dynamic in India as compared to the the rest of the world, probably because of the inclusive nature of Hinduism (the majority religion). What are your thoughts?

Tom Rees said...

Well this was looking at prayer. So what this suggests is that the function of prayer is broadly similar to its function in other societies.

However, it's true that the dynamics of religion vary from one culture to the next. However, I suspect that in all cultures religion offers a psychological buffer against uncertainty and distress (in addition to any other functions).

Anonymous said...

Please keep writing. I loved your article. It gave me some good ideas that I will use to fight back all these people that are trying to convince me of the existence of god. Thank you.