andreas baumann, numbers guy.

statistics, religion, game theory, sociology.

Month: March, 2013

The end of liberal religion?

A classical theme in the sociology of religion is secularisation: the disappearance of religion as such in the modern world, the disintegration of the “sacred canopy” (Berger) or the “disenchantment of the world” (Weber). The secularisation thesis was pretty uncontested until ca. the 1970s, where the New Religious Movements drawing adherents from the counterculture of the 60s and the Iranian Revolution led scholars to question the dogma of disappearing religion.

However, even though religion might be returning, maybe we need to think about what forms of religion are disappearing and what forms remain. The characteristic forms of NRMs in the 60s were rather obscure religions such as the ISKCON (probably better known as the Hare Krishna movement), Transcendental Meditation or something like that. The Iranian revolution marked the upsurge of a more literalist Shia Islam. The Moral Majority of the 1980s wasn’t built on Episcopalianism or Presbyterianism, classic mainline American Protestant denominations; rather, it relied heavily on Evangelicals and Baptists.

Looking at the American or European religious landscapes of today, you notice something odd; the liberal religion of yesterday, the faiths of Tillich or Bultmann seem to be on the wane. The world of the future may be the world of Dawkins and Khomeini, not Tillich or Eisenhower.

How do we measure religiosity?

I’ve recently been thinking about how to accurately measure religiosity. Of course, this depends heavily on what your idea about religiosity is (what “religiosity” really means in your theoretical framework).

Say religion is a good, and religiosity is a measure of preference for spending ressources – time, money, devotion (an intensely scarce good) – on this good versus other goods or services. This is consistent with some of the common items used to measure religiosity, such as church attendance or incidence of prayer. This works both for an exogenous and endogenous conceptions of religiosity.

Your problem then lies in defining spending on religious goods and services. Is yoga religion? Is astrology? Imagine a situation where you want to measure consumption of soft drinks. “Soft drink” is a pretty stable and uncontested concept, so you don’t really have a problem in defining this. Measuring religiosity by measuring participation in traditional church activities correspondends to measuring soft drink consumption by Coke sales, because you miss a lot of substitution effects (what if people start drinking 7-Up instead of Coke?).

Another way to do it is to ask respondents to rate themselves on, say, a ten-point scale. This leads to two problems:

  • People might rate themselves compared to their friends, not the population as a whole. This is a problem exactly because people select into social groups consisting of people like themselves. If you’re very religious, it is much more likely that you’ll have a friend that is even more religious than you than it is to know such a person if you’re practically areligious.
  • Religion is a contested contest. When studying religion, you very often run into groups who claim not to be religious, but clearly seem to be religion in some sense. Maybe this problem can be alleviated by terming it “spirituality”.

Yet another way of thinking about measuring it is in terms of cognitive activation. One should expect that very religious persons activate the cognitive religion domain more often, and that it is more salient in their world-interpretation. One would have to measure this in asking questions the explore, say, the religious connotations of ill health or related measures.


What’s your implicit model?

I recently read this article (nb: in Danish), where the pediatrician Morten Staberg argues against the legality of circumcision from a medical perspective. I’m not going to address his points, because I doubt that I’ll be able to offer valid points on the medical aspects per se.

Rather, I’d like to focus on one point, where I’m disagreeing with him: what’s the comparison model? He is (implicitly) comparing the current practice of circumcision in Denmark with a state of no circumcision – which is wrong! If you criminalize circumcision, you’ll reduce the number of circumcisions, but you won’t eradicate it. And those who illegally continue to perform circumcision on children will do so in worse sanitary conditions for being forced underground and will be more reluctant to seek out medical advice if adverse effects arise.

In this aspect, it ties in with the prostitution debate: making prostitution illegal won’t eradicate it, but it will lead to some bad effects for the persons involved. We shouldn’t compare the current legal state of prostitution with a state wherein nobody is a prostitute, because that’s not what will result from a ban. The same goes for circumcision.

It’s all about living in the real world.