Selected anomalies or overlooked variability? Modernization is associated with secularization in countries with high historical wealth but is associated with increasing religiosity in post-communist or Christian-minority countries

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Thu. 11.04.'24 14:45



Abstract :

One prominent theory of social change predicts secularization —when societies prosper, people rely less on religion for ensuring survival, social order, and meaning of life. While some researchers claimed that secularization is universal, critics contended that it does not explain patterns of religious change in non-Western societies. To settle this debate, we applied multilevel modeling to analyze historical, socio-economic factors that moderated the process of secularization around the world. We predicted that secularization occurs as a result of modernization in societies where historical wealth and democratic institutions were established to ensure social, political, and ecological stability for citizens. We also used the cultural evolutionary account of religion to predict that modernization strengthens people’s need for religiosity in societies without well-functioning institutions to mitigate increased social complexity. We used GDP and infant mortality as indices of modernization, the Gini index as an indicator of social complexity, and communist history (non-communist vs. post-communist) and the proportion of Christianity as historical contexts to explain variability in the within-society processes of secularization. Analyzing religiosity data with over 100 countries over 30 years, we found support for the secularization hypothesis primarily among formerly wealthy countries: in years when economic wealth increased, religiosity declined. However, an increase in GDP predicted increasing religiosity among formerly poor countries. We also found that increased economic inequality was linked with greater religiosity only among post-communist countries or Christian-minority countries: when economic inequality increased in those countries, religiosity increased. We integrate these findings and the present analytical approach to discuss implications for cross-national research and the study of societal change.