Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Where Has Religiosity Gone?

In my previous posts, I found evidence of the decline in anti-secularism in the Middle East, together with decline in egalitarian sentiments and continued support for capitalism -- as my previous research had shown and predicted.

Sicence vs. Religion

In the meantime, there is a question of where religiosity has gone. My hypothesis is that the religious energies of Egyptians (and similar people of the Middle East) would migrate to "other-worldly" dimensions. The first variable to check elicits level of agreement that "whenever science and religion conflict, religion is always right." Here, again, I am comparing my native Egypt to the U.S. 
The U.S. continues to exhibit an alarming tendency for respondents to put religion before science, which has caused serious problems in education and most recently in our response to the covid-19, albeit fortunately moving in the right direction. 

In Egypt, by contrast, we see a remarkable jump in "religion above science" sentiments, consistent with my hypothesis that religiosity has not declined, but has migrated to other-worldly dimensions. Fortunately, WVS also has a question about worldly vs. other-worldly dimensions of religion, so, let's examine that:

Which World?

OK. This hypothesis is not borne out in the data. Attitudes in both U.S. and Egypt are about the same, with a majority, albeit small, shifting to the view that religion is about this world, rather than life after death.

Algorithmic Religion

Another interesting WVS question asks whether the meaning of religion is found in following religious norms and rituals or doing good to other people. Here, we see a bad trend in both U.S. and Egypt, with the majority switching to viewing religion more in algorithmic terms of norms and ceremonies, and less about helping other people, but the trend is much more pronounced in Egypt... Again, this confirms the decline in egalitarian "social gospel-like" sentiments, and religious energy migrating to other-worldly aspects of religion. 
How does one reconcile this with the previous plot showing more religious focus on this world than the next? Perhaps Egyptians are increasingly using religion as an escape mechanism to accept things in this world that they cannot change (a la Niebuhr's famous serenity prayer), which is a popular use of religion at the hears of both Salafi and Sufi traditions. 

The combination can be very harmful: religiosity remaining extremely high, religion explaining this world, focusing on ritualistic mechanics (and silly stratagems like Islamic finance, etc.), and shunning science!

Monday, July 27, 2020

A Question of Trust, Revisited

I wrote here five years ago on the question of trust, when I was terrified by what I saw in the US political primary season that year. Since then, there have been many changes, including Brexit. Unfortunately, data from UK is not available in the latest wave. However, data from U.S. is available, albeit already a bit dated. For some comparison to another Western country, I have chosen Germany.

The 2006-11 increase in levels of American mistrust of people with other religions and nationalities had begun to reverse course by 2017, but remains worse than it was 15 years ago, albeit not by very much (approximately 5% of respondents have moved from cautious trust of both groups of "other" to cautious mistrust when comparing 2017 to 2006). The U.S. remains more cautiously trusting than Germany, but the latter has been moving steadily in the direction of more cautious trust of "others."

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Egalitarianism and Anti-Secularism Decline, Redux


My native Egypt went through a very strange transformation in the first decade of the century. At the turn of the century, a clear supermajority was tolerant of greater inequality in order to provide incentives for enterprise and hardworking. The decade ended in revolt, as we know, with a huge jump in attitudes -- flipping to supermajority favoring greater equality. 

This trend was reversed during the second decade of the century, most recent data still showing a weak majority favoring more equal distribution, but attitudes in 2018 were essentially back to where they had been a decade earlier in 2008. This is quite puzzling

It is especially puzzling when we compare it to the trend in attitudes in my adopted homeland of USA, which have continued to favor greater equality even since the Financial Crisis that precipitated the Great Recession. While a majority in the U.S. favored greater inequality in 2006, the increase in pro-egalitarian sentiments has been continuing monotonically, most recently showing a majority that favors greater equality, which was not the cases during the first six years of the century.


On a different but related note, I had found that "the revolutionary moment" in Egypt and other countries of the Arab Spring occurred during a confluence of high anti-secular and egalitarian attitudes (see "Bread (Rawls) + Freedom (Sen) = Social Justice? Religion and Economics in the Egyptian Spring"). The precipitous decline in Egyptians' pro-egalitarian attitudes has been accompanied by a precipitous decline in anti-secular attitudes (is it essential for a democracy that "religious authorities interpret the law"). In 2008, a clear supermajority favored democratic anti-secularism (whatever that means), and a decade later a clear majority was against it. This is no doubt a consequence of MB's failure to govern, and the populace recognizing that they merely wanted to replace one set of oligarchs with another, but even as casually as I have followed Egyptian pop culture, it is clear that the level of formulaic and over religiosity that was present at the turn of the century has lost its allure.

Interestingly, the decline in anti-secularism is not unique to Egypt. The pattern also holds in Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, and Tunisia, albeit not as striking in those countries as it was in Egypt (and mostly the change in those latter countries occurs in the middle of response distributions, whereas the Egyptian one is across the board). All countries have switched over the past decade to a majority who do not subscribe to anti-secular views (measured by the top half of responses on religious authorities interpreting the law). Qatar is a bit of an exception, but we do not have a time series for the country, and data is not available for Saudi Arabia for this question (on the World Values Survey, which I have been mining since the onset of the Arab Spring nearly a decade ago).

Interestingly, attitudes in Jordan and Tunisia have also turned less egalitarian in recent years:
This is all consistent with my earlier work, also, which suggested that Muslim societies' preferences have been generally trending in a pro-capitalist direction, c.f. "Pro-Capitalist Trends in Muslim Attitudes: A Change-in-Change Analysis".