Human

High levels of existential security linked to faster secularisation, study finds

Credit: Adobe Stock
Credit: Adobe Stock

Secularisation progresses faster in societies with a high level of existential security. It is similar in different countries, despite cultural differences and religious traditions, shows international research led by Dr. Konrad Talmont-Kamiński from the University of Bialystok.

The project was carried out in partnership with the Center for Modeling Social Systems in Norway and experts: psychologists and sociologists specialising in the areas of religiosity and social process modelling.

Talmont-Kamiński says that he was prompted to start this research by the 2018 Pew Research Center report, which examined aspects of religiosity. Ten years ago, Polish sociologists wrote that secularisation in Poland was very slow, and research from 2018 showed that this process was very fast.

He explains that he wanted to check how this process worked in different societies. To that end, he used computer models that, based on the entered data of entire societies, as well as individuals, allowed him to check how they would behave in a given situation.

The scientist emphasises that an important thing that has been achieved is a model of this secularisation process for Poland, Norway and the United States. In addition to available historical data from these countries for the entire 20th century, variables that could influence secularisation were taken into account: education; religious freedom; level of pluralism, i.e. acceptance of diversity; and a sense of existential security, i.e. financial and physical security, when - as the researcher describes - people know that if they go out on the street, they are safe, and if they lose their jobs, they will receive benefits.

It turns out that the variable that is most indicative of the level of religiosity in these three societies is the level of existential security. The researchers have found that the historical level of security makes it possible to predict changes in religiosity, which suggests that a high level of security is the main factor of secularisation. 'At this point, it seems that this is the foundation of secularisation. From the theoretical point of view, it is a very important step forward,’ Talmont-Kamiński says. He adds that this also has significant consequences for the policies of countries that would like to influence the secularisation process. 'The desire to accelerate or delay it has a slim chance of success,' he says.

Research has also shown that the process of secularisation is similar in different societies. 'No one would have expected it to be so similar. After all, in different countries there are different religious traditions, different cultures, etc., but the process is very similar,’ the researcher says. He emphasises that these do not have to be European or Christian countries. Secularisation is also progressing in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia - people there are also becoming less religious.

As part of the project, surveys were also conducted on representative groups in several countries, including: in Poland, Ireland, Czechia and the United States, to create individual profiles of people regarding religiosity.

Talmont-Kamiński explains that they were needed because the available data concerned entire societies, not individual people.

After analysing the surveys, the researchers concluded that in most countries the highest level of religiosity occurred at the age of 12-14, then the level dropped until the age of 25, and remained constant in the following years of life.

According to Talmont-Kamiński, this can be seen across generations. If current seniors are religious, it means they were religious when they were 25, and because society is becoming secular, they may be perceived as very religious, because current 20-year-olds identify less with religion.

One of the conclusions of the research is that religious people have a greater tendency to accept beliefs based on authority rather than content. 'This is due to the social function of religious beliefs, which is not dependent on their accuracy, and the fact that societies are able to adjust the norms of acceptance of beliefs to their features that are considered significant,’ says Talmont-Kamiński.

The project took three and a half years. As part of it, a Thor computer with high computing power was purchased, which made it possible to run simulations. According to Talmont-Kamiński, a special data set on religiosity has been created: DIM-R (Dataset of Integrated Measures of Religion), which is - as he emphasises - the largest such set available. A secularisation model has also been created, which can be used for further research. On its basis, social changes can be predicted and, therefore, appropriate social policies can be prepared.

The project 'Religion, Ideology & Prosociality: Simulating Secularising Societies' received funding in the amount of EUR 1.2 million from the Norwegian Financial Mechanism in the GRIEG competition operated by the Polish National Science Centre. (PAP)

Sylwia Wieczeryńska

swi/ agt/ kap/

tr. RL

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