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Religious Change Preceded Economic Change in the 20th Century – Science Advances, by researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Tennessee.

September 26, 2018

ECONOMIC growth has not caused societies to become more secular, as has often been thought, this study suggests.

It uses data from birth cohorts from the World Values Survey “to get a measure of the importance of religion spanning the entire 20th century (1900 to 2000)”, a press release from the University of Bristol says.

The study says that “across a diversity of countries around the world, changes in secularisation predicted changes in GDP worldwide during the 20th Century. More broadly, this implies that changes in the everyday importance of religious practices preceded changes in economic development in the 20th century. While this does not yet isolate one path of causality, it determines that economic growth is not what caused secularisation in the past.”

The lead researcher, Damian Ruck, from the University of Bristol, said: “Our findings show that secularisation precedes economic development, and not the other way around. However, we suspect the relationship is not directly causal. We noticed that secularisation only leads to economic development when it is accompanied by a greater respect for individual rights.

“Very often, secularisation is, indeed, accompanied by a greater tolerance of homosexuality, abortion, divorce, etc. But that isn’t to say that religious countries can’t become prosperous. Religious institutions need to find their own way of modernising and respecting the rights of individuals.”

Another of the study’s authors, Professor Alex Bentley, from the Department of Anthropology at the University  of Tennessee, said: “Over the course of the 20th century, changes in importance of religious practices appear to have predicted changes in GDP across the world.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean that secularisation caused economic development, since both changes could have been caused by some third factor with different time lags, but at least we can rule out economic growth as the cause of secularisation in the past.”

Quotations:

whether development causes secularization or vice versa

we have shown that, across a diversity of countries around the world, changes in secularization predicted changes in GDP worldwide during the 20th century. More broadly, this implies that changes in the everyday importance of religious practices preceded changes in economic development in the 20th century. While this does not yet isolate one path of causality, it determines that economic growth is not what caused secularization in the past. Our observation that secularization preceded economic change further rules out a bicausal relationship between income and religion as well as the theory that socioeconomic advances cause religious practices to be phased out

with religious countries tending to have high support for science education. In nations where secular government programs gradually replace religious institutions as provider of education and social welfare, changes in education would tend to be subsequent

Because religious beliefs and practices are culturally inherited, there may be positive feedback in secularization among generations raised with reduced exposure to religious practices. These generational patterns affirm that cultural values change at the population scale; this is consistent with, for example, WEVS evidence for acculturation of migrants on a time scale on the order of a decade

The secularization factor was the one that explained the most variance in the EFA, and this factor was highly loaded upon WVS questions including “How important in your life is religion?,” “How important is God in your life?,” “Are you a religious person?,” “How often do you attend religious services,?” “How much confidence do you have in the Church?,” and “Is religious faith an important quality to instil in a child?” Tolerance was highly loaded upon questions concerning the respondents’ attitude toward homosexuality, divorce, suicide, and abortion.

We used tertiary education enrolment rates as a proxy measurement for science education.

Our findings do not mean, however, that secularization was the ultimate cause of economic development. Both secularization and economic growth may have been driven by something else, with secularization responding faster than GDP. This likely rules out technological advances as the ultimate cause, as it is hard to imagine how religion could respond faster to technological change than GDP.

unanticipated changes remind us to be open to unprecedented causal pathways between development, religion, and tolerance in the future.

It’s online here.

And here.

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