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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchGiving Up on God: The Global Decline of Religion

Giving Up on God: The Global Decline of Religion

Author: Ronald F. Inglehart

Affiliation: University of Michigan

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: September-October, 2020/USA

Type of Literature: Analysis

Word Count: 2793 


Keywords: Religion, Secularism, Ideology 


The author is the founder of World Values Survey, an international research program based at the University of Michigan that collects data through surveys about people’s cultural values and beliefs. The author argues that since 2007 religious beliefs have been slowly declining around the world. According to the author, the main reason for this decline is the changing attitudes in human sexuality, gender, and fertility. An unstated premise of the article is that one of modern religion’s major purpose was to provide comfort to people who suffer from uncertainty and fear. As such, it creates social cohesion and norms that help preserve the safety and security in times of stress and instability. Due to this emotional rather than cognitive definition of religion, as new technologies in fertility increase, the need for religion diminishes. The author relies on a long-term study conducted from 1981 to 2020. While for a brief period after the Cold War religion filled the vacuum of declining communist ideology, in the post 2007 world that trend is reversed. The two exceptions to this trend are India and the Muslim world, where according to the author, society is increasingly traditional and conservative. The United States is the leading secularizing country in the world—doubling its pace towards secularization. While the author’s arguments catch headlines, the article fails to articulate how the survey defines “traditional” vs. “secular,” and what is “religious” in religion exactly? This even applies to seemingly specific questions regarding God: what kind of God exactly? The theoretical weaknesses cloud what appear to be “hard” social scientific facts about societies. For example, the “fact” that changing gender norms have a direct impact toward secularization already assumes that religion is primarily a private enterprise interested in “family values.” The circular reasoning reinforces the authors’ assumptions by driving data towards foregone conclusions. The article argues that “traditional” societies are also more corrupt and violent than secular ones. The reader is left to question if traditional is only a synonym for bad while secular means good. This article is a primary example of how theoretically unreflective social science can skew our understanding of reality.

By: M. Üveys Han, Senior Research Associate



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