Day By Day

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Religiosity and Development

And while we are on the subject of the Atlantic, Alan Wolfe has an interesting article in the latest edition. In it he takes issue with the recent spate of scare stories predicting a rise in religious fervor that will disrupt the international system. He notes that on a global scale religiosity is on the decline, and that even in areas where it is high religious observance is evolving to accommodate secular rationalism. Secularism rather than religiosity, he argues, is the wave of the future.

I think he's right, but what struck me most in his article is the figure reposted above. It illustrates the relationship between religiosity and economic development. There are several interesting things to note in this chart.

First of all the inverse relationship between economic development and religiosity is striking. With few exceptions the wealthier a country becomes the lower its level of religiosity.

Secondly the regional concentration of wealth stands out. Note the concentration of African states on the left side of the graph and the cluster of Western European states on the right. Eastern Europe and Latin America, though more dispersed, also seem to occupy distinct areas on the graph.

Also note the outliers. Kuwait is distinctive in its high religiosity and comparatively high level of wealth. I am not certain why this is so, but suspect it has a lot to do with that country's experience in the past two decades. And by far the most distinctive country is the United States. Not only are Americans, in terms of their purchasing power, far wealthier than the citizens of any other nation, but Americans to an amazing extent generally resisted the secularizing drift of other developed populations. I suspect that this is because American Protestantism [and to a lesser degree Catholicism] has tended to celebrate rather than to denounce capitalism. Moreover America's extreme religious pluralism and its voluntaristic traditions encourage people to migrate across religious boundaries rather than to submit to doctrines that might undermine their material interests.

Interesting! Read Wolfe's article here.