In this article I compare data taken from the World Values Survey and the Fragile States Index which shed some light on why people follow a religion.
The World Values Survey is a global network of social scientists who study changes in people’s values and the impact that these have on social and political life. The survey began in 1981 and conducts nationally representative surveys in almost 100 countries, comprising almost 90% of the world’s population. Interviews are conducted on a five-yearly cycle and, currently, the questionnaire consists of over 300 standard questions. The World Values Survey data and methodology can be found at https://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs.jsp
The Fragile States Index data is compiled by the Fund for Peace and is intended to be a measure of the likelihood that a state will erupt into mass violence due to internal conflicts. The Fund for Peace holds that “Fault lines can emerge between identity groups, defined by language, religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, class, caste, clan, or area of origin. Tensions can deteriorate into conflict through a variety of circumstances, such as competition over resources, predatory or fractured leadership, corruption, or unresolved group grievances. The reasons for state fragility are complex but not unpredictable. ” The index aggregates the following twelve indicators each of which comprises many sub-factors:
- security threats from, for example, crime, terrorism or rebel movements;
- fragmentation along, for example, ethnic, class, or religious lines;
- divisions between different groups in society, particularly those based on social or political characteristics;
- economic decline;
- inequality within the economy;
- human flight and brain drain;
- the population’s level of confidence in state institutions and processes;
- essential public services such as health, education, water, sanitation, electricity, effective policing, etc.;
- the protection of human rights and the rule of law;
- demographic pressures such as population pressures on resources and public services, youth or age bulges, etc.;
- the forced displacement of large communities due to political, environmental, or other causes; and
- the influence and impact of external actors on the functioning of a state.
Data and the method by which it is gathered can be found at https://fragilestatesindex.org/
For the 54 countries where both sets of data exist, the graph below compares their National Fragility Index for 2022 with the percentage of the population who, according to the most recent wave of the World Values Survey, believe in God (Q165).
The coefficient of correlation is an indicator of how two variables are related to one another. It varies on a scale from 0, i.e., unrelated, to 1, i.e., perfectly related. The coefficient can also be positive or negative depending on whether one of the variables increases or decreases with the other. In the example below, the coefficient of correlation is 0.70 which indicates that national fragility and belief in God, on a national scale, are moderately related.
For the 54 countries where both sets of data exist, the graph below compares two sets of data from the most recent World Values Survey, i.e., the percentage of national population who believe that you need to be very careful in dealing with people (Q57), and the percentage of the population who believe in God (Q165). The coefficient of correlation here is 0.86 which indicates a strong relationship.
Correlation between two variables can indicate cause and effect, but not necessarily so. For example, the two variables may have a common cause. Thus, belief in God, fragility, and the need for care may all have a common cause. Alternatively, belief in God might be interpreted as causing fragility and the need for great care in dealing with people. These options seem unlikely, however. Firstly, because the national fragility index comprises a very wide range of variables and it is difficult to identify anything that has been overlooked which might cause both fragility and belief in God. Secondly, many religions emphasise good relationships with one’s fellow human beings, rather than distrust of them.
I would suggest, therefore, that the most likely relationship is one in which national fragility and the need for care in dealing with people are, in part at least, causes of a belief in God. If so, then this may be because people’s need for security and stability, when not provided by the state, is satisfied by believing in God. That is, belief in an infallible being with our own interest and our society’s interest at heart. Conversely, if the state does provide security and stability, then the need for a belief in God is reduced.
- Haerpfer, C., Inglehart, R., Moreno, A., Welzel, C., Kizilova, K., Diez-Medrano J., M. Lagos, P. Norris, E. Ponarin & B. Puranen (eds.). 2022. World Values Survey: Round Seven – Country-Pooled Datafile Version 5.0. Madrid, Spain & Vienna, Austria: JD Systems Institute & WVSA Secretariat. doi:10.14281/18241.20