Religiosity and income inequality

Among the key formative experiences of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is that of racial and religious conflict as happened in the 1950s and 1960s. To this day, Singapore’s PAP government remains wary of religion as an organising force for political ends. Yet, their economic policies may have had the effect of promoting religiosity, such that the ground is always fertile for the rise of political religion. The PAP’s governance may be producing the very conditions they fear most.

But you may ask: How does economic policy increase religiosity?

It is not as mysterious as it may at first seem. It has long been observed that income inequality correlates with religiosity; the greater the inequality, the higher the degree of religiosity. Generally, the hypothesis is that those who are worse off economically seek succour in religion. It comforts them, it gives them hope that perhaps in the next life, things will be better. It gives them a sense of self-worth on the intangible values side to compensate for the humiliations they suffer on the material side (“I may be poorer than you, but I am a better person than you”). The name given to this explanation of the correlation is Deprivation Theory. The more deprived the bulk of the people are, the more unequal the society, the greater interest in religion.

A variant of the hypothesis incorporates a twist to it, known as Relative Power Theory: Income inequality correlates with religiosity because religion is also useful to the richer classes in maintaining their privileges. Consciously or unconsciously, the better-off classes use and propagate religion to inculcate acceptance among the lower-income of their inferior status. Religion tends to promote a fatalistic view of life, whether cast as “God’s plan” or “You’re not succeeding because you haven’t prayed hard enough”, thereby reducing popular demand for economic redistribution.  Additionally, the promotion of religion achieves buy-in by the lower-income classes of the conservative social values that religion often represents, thus channelling their vote-support towards rightwing parties which (surprise, surprise!) tend to champion free-market values — the very values that create and defend income inequality and oppose redistribution. The greater the inequality, the more the richer classes deploy religion to protect their interests.

Attractive though this hypothesis is, there hasn’t been a lot of studies done to validate it. Now, however, a new study by Frederick Stolt, Philip Habel and J Tobin Grant, all from the Southern Illinois University, lends it empirical support.

I wish to thank the reader who directed my attention to this study via email.

Titled “Economic inequality, relative power and religiosity“, it was published in the June 2011 issue of Social Studies Quarterly, a double-blind peer-reviewed journal. The work done involved lots of complex statistical and mathematical calculations, all quite beyond me, but trusting it as a peer-reviewed article, I think we can accept its conclusions as valid.

The study was

a multilevel analysis of religiosity across dozens of countries over two decades and a time-series analysis of trends in religiosity over half a century in the United States.

What the authors did was to

combine crossnational survey data on religiosity collected in the five waves of the World Values Survey and three waves of the European Values Survey (WVS/EVS) from 1981 to 2007 with data on economic inequality from the Standardized World Income Inequality Database (SWIID). The resulting data set includes well over 200,000 individual respondents in more than 175 society year contexts in 76 different societies.

They set off to do two things:

  1. To verify if religiosity really correlates with income inequality
  2. To test whether the the data is consistent with the Relative Power Theory, i.e. that the higher-income classes might be using religion to protect its interests in the face of inequality

First of all, one mustn’t confuse religiosity with religious affiliation. To put it simply, religiosity is the intensity of religiousness in a person. There is no single measure, but relevant measures would include how fervently he believes what his religion tells him, how closely he has shaped his behaviour to religiously desired patterns and so on.

As you can see from the following Figure 1 (taken from the study), on all twelve different measures of religiosity, there was a correlation with the Gini coefficient of net household income (the X axis).

The middle part of the paper goes into a complex discussion about teasing out other variables. For example, Muslim societies tend to have higher levels of religiosity compared to non-Muslim societies. Post-communist countries, for historical reasons, tend to have lower levels of religiosity. On the whole, the authors found that even after adjusting for these factors, the correlation between religiosity and income inequality still holds.

Then comes the truly interesting question. Is the correlation entirely explained by the deprivation theory (i.e. low-income people flock to religion for succour)? Or is there evidence to support the relative power theory (i.e. religiosity is promoted, consciously or subconsciously, by the higher-income as part of the defence of their privileges)?

To sort this out, we take note of one prediction from the deprivation theory, which is that high-income people would have less need for succour and religion. Levels of religiosity should be lower among the higher-income classes in highly unequal societies.

But that was the opposite of what the data showed. Empirically, the researchers found that on some measures of religiosity, the higher-income exhibited higher scores than the lower-income. On other measures, there was no statistical difference. On the whole the rich (in highly unequal societies) were more religious than the poor. See the example of one such measure at right.

As further support for the relative power theory, in societies with low inequality (i.e. low Gini coefficients), the rich were indeed less religious than the poor.

As the researchers wrote:

These results support only the relative power theory of religiosity. Looking across countries around the world over two decades, higher levels of economic inequality appear to make religion more attractive to the rich and to increase their ability to disseminate religion  among the other members of their societies.

Reinforcing this, in their conclusion:

religion may serve as a comfort to the poor as deprivation theory suggests, but it is also and more importantly a means of social control for the rich. . .

[snip]

many wealthy individuals . . . respond to higher levels of inequality by adopting religious beliefs and spreading them among their poorer fellow citizens. Religion then works to discourage interest in mere material well-being in favor of eternal spiritual rewards, preserving the privileges of the rich and allowing unequal conditions to continue.

Which sort of echoes what Seneca the Younger is supposed to have said (though authenticity is disputed): “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”.

* * * * *

As to how well the theory fits the situation in Singapore, I can’t say. I don’t know of any longitudinal surveys that measure religiosity by income categories. I seriously doubt if any has been conducted. But intuitively, many of us have the sense that religiosity has been rising. Muslims in the present generation observe the dress code more strictly than previous generations. Christian fervour seems to be greater today, with many instances of overzealous proselytisation. Intolerance seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. Against the backdrop of rising inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient — the outcome of economic policies pursued by the PAP government — we can’t help wondering if the study’s findings may well apply in Singapore too.

29 Responses to “Religiosity and income inequality”


  1. 1 Richard Lee 24 July 2011 at 07:11

    I believe both the Deprivation and Relative Power Theories are perfectly exemplified by Singapore. Religion is of vital importance to 60% of the population.

    If PAP is not elected, the world will end. If you don’t pray to LKY, bad things will happen to you, even the ISA. If you glorify his name, your Housing Estate and other wordly matters may be improved, but if you don’t these good things will definitely NOT rain down. You must suffer the minor inconveniences of low income and work faster & cheaper to gain his contenance. Be truly grateful, your tithes (CPF) are used to magnify the Dignity of his Prophets.

  2. 2 shornlock 24 July 2011 at 11:02

    Causative or correlative? I tend to think along historical lines — the older the society, the more likely that certain socioeconomic divides have been entrenched and the more likely that religion was an early defining force coeval with the sociocultural definition of that society. A modernist society which was formed on the basis of society-wide revolution is likely to be more egalitarian and less religious.

    • 3 yawningbread 24 July 2011 at 11:21

      But what empirical basis is there for your theory?

      How would you explain the secularism of Western European countries, together with relatively low Gini coefficients, when these societies have deep historical roots?

      • 4 Trebuchet 25 July 2011 at 00:20

        See, Alex, Western European countries have shallow roots. They have religions (if they have any) that are borrowed from far older Asian cultures (actually, the vast majority of surviving modern religions stem from a little quadrilateral you can draw from the east coast of the Med to the west coast of the Pacific without leaving Asia.

        Further, the modern Western Europeans have a relatively recent society that if anything came about only after the Hundred Years’ War, and more war, and more war. So in the early 20th century, the Scandinavians gave the women the vote, and it spread around, and in the end, the only power structures that could maintain their power were the really old, really clever minority that had somehow survived all those wars and revolutions.

        Now look at India, or Russia, or Brazil. Consider how long the elite has been in power, not in terms of whatever names they have, but in terms of the actual power networks: castes, structures, social cliques. Looking at a Gini coefficient map will show that crime, royalty and caste are probably the main determinants of whether self-perpetuating inequality exists in a society. Religion is one of those things that can be a symptom, but is not necessarily so.

        And so, in some ways, I agree with Shornlock.

  3. 5 Anonymous 24 July 2011 at 11:22

    The Norway tragedy that had resulted in at least 85 deaths raises a significant concern over the link between inequality and extremism. The Reuters report had also highlighted that a major influx of immigrants into Europe might give right-wing extremism and terrorism a new lease of life.

    There is a lesson to be learn. Our government should take heed of the increased online chatter and unhappiness voiced by netizens before it develops into something nasty. I am really worried for our society when our government continues it’s growth-at-all-cost policy as alluded by MM Lee as something which “cannot be helped”.

    Perhaps a time bomb waiting to explode?

  4. 6 Pundit 24 July 2011 at 11:56

    YB, a good article, a good hypothesis, albiet a wee bit too complex for most people. What is interesting can be summed up in your opening statement:

    “The PAP’s governance may be producing the very conditions they fear most.”

    In the 60’s era the PAP came across as a government, devoted, passionate and virtually selfless in bringing Singapore around after our independence.

    Today, this same PAP are asking the citizens to be selfless and committed to the economic growth of the country without addressing the ever widening chasm of inequalities and unhappiness which they have created through their policies. The economic success of Singapore has blinded the PAP, and hence they will live in continued fear that the rising religiosity with respect to “what is fair”, fueled by rising discontent will one day turn ugly.

  5. 7 Viv 24 July 2011 at 12:11

    The Western European experience perfectly exemplifies both theories: their welfarist policies make them more egalitarian (compared to the US) and their rates of religiosity are lower. Consider the “religious economy” theory. Historically the Catholic church dominated most of Europe and most people were Catholic. There wasn’t much need to proselytise as there was not much “competition” for followers. In societies like the US and S’pore, the “free market” of religious organizations translate to a lot of competition for adherents, hence more proselytization and thereby possibly greater religiosity.

    Of course, there wouldn’t be supply without demand, so I believe a state of high inequality, poor income redistribution and general dissatisfaction and deprivation amongst the lower middle to lower classes are perfect ingredients for right-wing religious organizations to thrive. Example: City Harvest and similar charismatic-movement churches have a vast majority of working class adherents in their flock. No surprise that they preach the “prosperity gospel” since material values and economic deprivation are foremost concerns in people’s lives.

  6. 8 K Das 24 July 2011 at 12:15

    It was a good read for a Sunday.

    The wise ones can chuckle and watch the fun seeing the majority religious poor and the minority religious rich, both suspicious and keeping the distance of each other, prostrate before the one same God seeking spiritual and material salvation respectively.

    Whether a Government is pro, anti or neutral of religion depends on the prevailing circumstances, social make up of the society and the start off political trajectory. PAP inherited from the British a religiously peaceful Singapore with religion shut out from politics. This suited and benefited the Party and over the years the ‘religion and politics should not mix’ mentality got deeply entrenched in its psyche

    On the other hand, the raison detre for UMNO and PAS in Malaysia (a Muslim majority State) – to exist, survive and progress – is religion and without taking up this mettle they would probably be as good as dead ducks.

    There is a context to everything.

  7. 9 cy 24 July 2011 at 12:21

    Correlation doesn’t mean causation.

    Comparing Europe between Dark Ages and now, has religiosity increased? What about income inequality, has it improved?

    Comparing China between Zhou Dynasty and now, has religiosity increased? What about income equality, has it worsened?

    Comparing Abbasid Empire with Iraq now, has religiosity increased? what about income inequality, has it worsened?

  8. 10 yj 24 July 2011 at 17:51

    CY – indeed, correlation doesn’t mean causation, but there are ways to try to tease out a limited form of causality (called Granger causality) in longitudinal studies. What the authors have tried to do in this case is to show that an increase in inequality (e.g. in Y2001) leads to an increase in religiosity in Y2002.

    Alex – Had a quick look thru the entire paper, and I think their checks are quite rigorous. But I’m a bit hesitant about accepting their conclusion that inequality leads to increased religiosity despite my comment to CY.

    In fig 5, the authors try to show that increased inequality in e.g. Y2001 leads to increased religiosity in Y2002. I presume the dots shown in fig 5 are the coefficient estimates of the inequality variable in the equation. In non-statistical terms, the dots show the estimated impact of inequality in Y2001 on religiosity in Y2002. A coefficient of >0 means that increased inequality in Y2001 leads to increased religiosity in 2002.

    But the coefficient is not the only number we need to look at. We need to look at the error associated with the estimate as well. This is represented by the error bars (the vertical lines above and below the dots) in fig 5. If the value 0 is found within the error bars, it means that the coefficient is not significantly different from 0 (‘significant is used in the statistical sense here).

    The error bars for the coefficient of inequality in the first column of fig 5 are huge. While they do not encompass 0, they come very very close to 0. This means that the coefficient for inequality may not be significantly different from 0. If so, we will not be able to conclude that increased inequality leads to increased religiosity.

    So I’d be wary about accepting their conclusions until this study is replicated.

  9. 11 Anonymous 24 July 2011 at 17:56

    I presume that the chart ‘believes in hell vs gini coefficient’ is accurately drawn. I observe how the gap between the rich and the poor appears the greatest at low gini (low income inequality levels) than the gap at high gini.

    Obviously something does not make sense, since by extrapolating backwards to zero gini (perfect equality), the gap should disappear (because the rich = the poor).

    In addition, the gini measure used is ‘net’ household income, as opposed to ‘market’ income.

    So, isn’t simpler to interpret the graphs as how much people turn to religion is correlated to how well the governments and institutions function to provide social security and services? That is, seeing institution and religion as competitive service providers?

  10. 12 yuen 24 July 2011 at 20:48

    maybe by some measures, people are more religious today than say 10 years ago, but that’s not the same as being more spiritual, because it is obvious people are more material and less inhibited than before; similarly, people are less concerned about moral codes and community standards than before and look less towards religious leaders for views on personal conduct, so are less religious in that sense

    maybe Islam is an exception? but I have my doubts even with that; I am inclined to believe muslim fundamentalism is more a political and communal issue than a religious one. among various problems, I note two of the major long standing international conflicts have muslims as victims: palestinians and kashmiris. added to various former colonies of christian colonizers with muslim populations struggling to make western government systems work after independence, there is a seething resentment that used a shared religion as common inspiration

    may I point out that US commandos found pornography in bin Laden’s house.. even he and his closest associates failed to live a life of purity…

  11. 13 Michael Ryan 25 July 2011 at 06:46

    There is a strong strain in Catholicism around ‘Social Justice’ ‘ Social Equity’ and concern for those less well off than ourselves. In Asia it is quite obvious that lots of the benefit societies, St. Vincent de Paul and the de La Salle giving a first-class education to the children of the poor so that they can get out of the poverty trap, are all peopled by good Catholic men and women. They just see a need and think that they could do something about it.

    Some of the more recent ‘Personal Holiness’ movements are more other-worldly in their promotion that if you believe the right things, don’t smoke, don’t drink, wear fancy clothes, clap and sing and wave your arms around then you will be saved, so it doesn’t really matter what goes on in this world and you can feel better than all the grubby Ah Bengs outside in the street.

    At the end of the day we’re all in this together. We all rise and fall together.

  12. 14 Tan Tai Wei 25 July 2011 at 08:35

    Both the theories seem to beg a fundamental issue.

    Might it not be that, rich or poor, people remained unfulfilled and realise, after all their search for meaning, that “man shall not live by bread only, but by word proceeding from the mouth of God”?

    And so, even the very rich, are religious, not necessarily with the sophistication of using it to keep the poor contented and hence protect their own wealth (only politicians would have the evil mind to so think!,) bot because precisely having arrived materially, they realise that that still doesn’t satisfy?

    This would explain why the rich nave been found to be even more religious than the poor. The poor have still to strive materially and might therefore be more inclined to feel that only money would satisfy.

    • 15 Elaine 27 July 2011 at 22:04

      I agree completely with TTW. The rich and the poor are religious for different reasons, but I believe a lot of this isn’t so much about wealth as intelligence and worldliness. Assuming the poor are simpler folk, they also have a different piety from the intellectuals, who are more likely to ask existential questions. And for those who are well off but are turned off by religion as a whole, they may feel the need to “give back to society” in terms of charity e.g. Rockefellers, Soros, Gates, Buffett. Once a person is wealthy and middle-aged, there is also a certain respectability about religion that connotes virtue, discipline and propriety, not to mention the wish to transmit such values onto offspring in order to maintain a good family reputation in society.

    • 16 Wy 8 August 2011 at 16:53

      “For a much more sophisticated theory, you should really read this article:

      Bourdieu, Pierre. “Legitimation and Structured Interests in Weber’s Sociology of Religion.” In Max Weber, Rationality and Modernity, edited by Scott Lash and Sam Whimster, 119-136. London: Allen & Unwin, 1987. (You can download a copy here.)

      Simplifying a bit, the a idea is that the rich and the poor make different sorts of demands on producers of religious ideas (such as priests, TV evangelists, etc). The rich tend to demand legitimation (which tells them that they’re rich because God wants them to be rich), while the poor tend to demand salvation (which tells them that things will get better for them, either in this life or in the next). This of course tends to benefit the rich, but this hypothesis doesn’t assume that the rich consciously intend to use religion to keep the poor in their place.

      A fuller understanding of the relationship between religion and inequality also needs to take into account the specific interests of producers of religious ideas. Bourdieu’s article also discusses this.” ~ Found this comment from https://sites.google.com/site/benjamingeer/ on this post: http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/2011/08/do-rich-use-religion-to-keep-poor-in.html

      I think it’s true that the relative power theory is problematic in that it accords too much agency to the rich, and too little to the poor.

  13. 17 DetachedObserver 25 July 2011 at 09:31

    If you subscribe to the positive psychology theories that all human beings seek identification with or need to work towards some higher purpose greater than themselves, rising religiosity can be explained by people wanting to satisfy that need by doing exactly that.

    [Note that I never said rising spiritualism. I know of people who have spent many years attending church sermons or venerating the Buddha, but have no idea what the Christian scripture or Buddhist sutras say.]

    Unfortunately, going by that theory, that would mean something else is weakening in the face of rising religiosity and income inequality. Then again, the Singapore common identity, which was never that strong in the first place, is assaulted daily by the unintended side-effects of economic neo-liberalism.

  14. 18 Chanel 25 July 2011 at 10:18

    The recent bombing/shooting in Norway by a lone man is perhaps a variant of your theory in income-disparity-religiosity-correlation

  15. 19 nihaoma 25 July 2011 at 16:45

    Now that I think about it, this truth does hold some water in Singapore. As a former Methodist, I do notice the rise of Christian religiosity here. My own Methodist demonination had the biggest membership until we were dwarfed by city harvest.

    I began to notice the rise of popularity of prosperity gospel in Singapore as espoused by city harvest and new creation. Now that I read this article, perhaps income inequality may played a factor in their rise. We are a prosperous city yet most singaporeans can’t feel the benefit. We see others prosper and we want to be like them. Prosperity gospel begins to look appealing.

    Even a former Methodist, I observed that it is the well educated that occupied the higher ranking positions in the church. God knows how many pastors and clergymen I know that used to be from ACS.

    As a former Christian, I see others that are well off than me but I know I am at least I am more religious than them. My enemies may hurt me now but god will deliver their justice to them after they die. These were the beliefs that was imbued into me when I was a Christian. I realized such thinking is errornous and I did not improved as a person at all. Now I am on the other side of the fence, I do feel more empowered now.

    Sorry for the long post. Just a perspective from a former Christian.

  16. 20 Anonymous 26 July 2011 at 11:04

    A somewhat related article, perhaps it might be of interest?

    http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf

    • 21 yawningbread 26 July 2011 at 11:19

      Indeed, it is interesting. The study, of 1st world countries, demonstrates a relationship between popular religiosity and social indicators. On page 416, it says:

      QUOTE
      Of the 25 socioeconomic and environmental indicators the most theistic and procreationist western nation, the U.S. scores the worst in 14 and by a very large margin in 8, very poorly in 2, average in 4, well or very in 4, and the best in 1. Specifically, the U.S., scores the most dysfunctional in homicide, incarceration, juvenile mortality, gonorrhea and syphilis infections, abortions, adolescent pregnancies, marriage duration, income disparity, poverty, work hours, and resource exploitation base.
      ENDQUOTE

      Figure 33 from this study shows the relationship between income inequality (Gini, X-axis) and social indicators (Y-axis):

      QUOTE (page 426)
      This study’s uniquely broad based comparison of socioeconomic conditions in the most prosperous democracies confirms that they vary widely among these nations, and that the U.S. is the most dysfunctional prosperous democracy overall. Possible causes for this pattern, including the diversity of the population, immigration, a frontier heritage, pathological media, and popular religiosity versus secularism are examined. Of these factors the U.S. is exceptional only in its high level of religiosity, which strongly statistically correlates with adverse and insecure societal and economic conditions in the developed democracies. For all their flaws,
      strongly secular advanced democracies display superior cumulative internal conditions, with some nations in western Europe enjoying the best overall circumstances yet seen.
      ENDQUOTE

  17. 22 CH Tan 26 July 2011 at 11:33

    You state that the rising inequalities are a result of economic policies pursued by the government. Which policies specifically are you referring to? All your research has shown is that there are more than just spurious connections betweeen religiosity and income inequality. It would be more helpful for you to show where specific policies result in inequality and then to connect the dots accordingly. It is quite callous of you to draw such sweeping conclusions from your ersatz research. Smoke and mirrors.

  18. 23 attica 26 July 2011 at 15:37

    Are you seriously going to expect Singaporeans to believe that high inequality here is not the result of a whole series of govt policies? They are too many to name, but the result as seen in a Gini coefficient in the high forties, is plain evidence.

    You just dismissed the study as “ersatz”, but you offer nothing in return. It reminds me of people who dismiss evolutionary science despite all the evidence, yet insist on creationism without a single shred of evidence.

  19. 24 Tan Ian Wern 26 July 2011 at 17:02

    Alex, I posted the following comment in reply to one of my friend’s sharing your very stimulating piece on Facebook. I replicate the comment below in full:

    “Interesting piece, but I am quite sceptical of his [Alex’s] theory. At the start Alex mentions ‘political religion’, but the way in which religion becomes political is never elaborated thereafter (even if increased religiosity in Singapore heightens the risk of social friction, that is often not the same thing as political conflict).

    Consider this study from Gallup, which suggests that the link between religiosity and intolerance shouldn’t be taken for granted (my ‘social friction’):
    http://www.gallup.com/poll​/117337/religious-countrie​s-perceived-ethnic-intoler​ance.aspx
    N.B. the section towards the end, ‘Ethnic and Racial Intolerance and Individual Levels of Religiosity’, where the authors try to explain why religiosity is so often associated with intolerance. The statistics tell a different story, of course.

    I am also not sure this sort of thing should be chalked up to ‘PAP governance’, unless one talks of causation in the sense that my birth “causes” my death. And if one does so, then the first section of this study suggests, perhaps even more strongly than the study Alex cites, that the PAP is responsible for decreasing religiosity in Singapore: http://www.gallup.com/poll​/116449/religion-provides-​emotional-boost-world-poor​.aspx

    All this is assuming, of course, that religiosity in Singapore has indeed risen. I don’t know, really — I know I and many people have experienced more proselytisation from charismatic Christians, but have Muslims really become more observant in their dress compared to previous generations as Alex claims? And how do we explain the motivation of the Taoist and Buddhist federations to step up efforts to attract the younger crowd — isn’t this instead a sign that Singaporeans are losing faith? It’s not clear on which side the balance comes out (incereasing vs. decreasing religiosity). So as long as reliable data is absent, I don’t see how the basis of Alex’s post is anything but speculation.”

    • 25 yawningbread 26 July 2011 at 18:02

      Political religion is the mobilisation along religious lines in order to pull a country’s laws and policies towards the religion’s precepts. Examples include political Buddhism in Sri Lanka (one of the triggers of the civil war), political Hinduism (Shiv Sena) in India, political Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia, and of course political Christianity in the US. High religiosity in a population does not by itself give rise to political religion, but presents a potential for it. As I wrote: “economic policies may have had the effect of promoting religiosity, such that the ground is always fertile for the rise of political religion.” Mobilisation needs leaders and a program. Without these, high religiosity will not lead to political religion. But leaders and a program, without much ground support (low religiosity) won’t get very far.

      Your first referenced Gallup study is impossible to fathom, mostly because it is not at all clear who it polled for their opinion of intolerance. Did they poll the minorities or the majorities? It looks like Gallup polled both and mixed up the numbers. In any case, it’s beside the point. Intolerance of ethnic and faith minorities does not automatically follow from high religiosity and high religiosity can well exist without political religion.

      Your second referenced Gallup study appear, on a quick read to be addressing the correlation between religiosity and average economic standard of a country. This has long been observed, but once again, is also beside the point. The Stolt et al study was not trying to replicate this, but to take it further, because while lots of countries in Western Europe (and now East Asia) have similar levels of economic development as the US, religiosity in the US is much higher. There must be some other important factor at work, and that of income inequality was thus examined. Their 12 graphs show correlation remarkably well.

      I myself said we don’t have data on religiosity in Singapore.What we do have are anecdotal reports of a school headmaster wanting to turn his entire canteen halal, of nurses proselytising to patients, of Christians mailing anti-Muslims booklets to Muslims.

      You wrote: “I don’t see how the basis of Alex’s post is anything but speculation.” Exactly what did I speculate on? If you’re saying the peer-reviewed Stolt study (which was the basis of the post) was pure speculation, then you have a very elastic definition of speculation.

      • 26 Tan Ian Wern 26 July 2011 at 19:19

        Thanks for your clarification on ‘political religion’.

        Sorry I wasn’t clear on what I referred to as the ‘basis’ of your post, because in context I assumed it was quite obvious that I was referring to your claim that Singapore is facing a trend of increasing religiosity (a validation of the relationship explored by Stolt et al. in the local context and hence the relevance of the study to Singapore). As you point out, what we do have are only anecdotal reports.

        Indeed, the second Gallup study is besides your main point on inequality, but precisely because I meant it to be so: I was saying that if one were to extrapolate the results of PAP economic policies that way and thus ascribe responsibility, then one might conclude, as far as that Gallup study is concerned, that the great increases in per capita income have led to a decrease in religiosity. This points in an opposite direction from that of the Stolt et al. study. So I was pointing out an inconsistency that merits further exploration.

        The primary point I was trying to highlight in the first Gallup study is written in the section I highlighted, which is that intolerance does not automatically follow from high religiosity, for the particular context is often explanatorily decisive, cf. Japan and Cambodia (in the first place, I don’t see how you are disagreeing with me on this, and in the second place, I don’t think the Gallup study claims that one variable “automatically follows” from the other, anymore than Stolt et al. do). I only thought this was relevant because I was hazarding a guess as to what you thought might be the link between ‘political religion’ and high religiosity, which you did not previously clarify.

  20. 27 Syle 26 July 2011 at 17:37

    I always say that the Republicants in the United States would love Singapore, or rather, its governance.

  21. 28 selene_pp 26 July 2011 at 20:00

    ///Examples include political Buddhism in Sri Lanka (one of the triggers of the civil war), political Hinduism (Shiv Sena) in India, political Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia, and of course political Christianity in the US.///

    Did you forget a local example of political religion – the coup at Aware led by Thio and gang from COOS? Or were you just being polite?

  22. 29 blacktryst 9 August 2011 at 01:22

    Interesting facts and figures but I wonder if the study also takes into account level of education. One can say that lower level income people have lower levels if education therefore having more religionsity than the upper level income. But irregardless, as an atheist, I do believe in the quote you given by Seneca the Younger, “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”. Often religion is also used as an armour for the rich and powerful. One point I like to make and something EVERYONE conveniently forgets. The bible is written by man. Not by God. Even if the bible is a collection of supposedly oral stories passed down from the disciples of Jesus Christ themselves, but still written by man nevertheless. How much creed and belief can one truly invest in a book written BY MAN truly astounds me constantly when i see Christians, muslims, Jews alike all cluthcing their Torahs, Bibles and Qurans.


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