Political scientists once believed that modernization would
diminish the importance of religion. But the United States, which
is considered the most modernized country in the world, has not
followed this trend, University experts say.

Mira Levitan
The Rev. Thomas Firestone conducts mass yesterday in the Saint Mary Student Parish on Thompson Street. (DAVID TUMAN/Daily)

For years, researchers have studied the United States’
religious fervor, a peculiar blend of moral piety and economic
progress.

The University’s World Values Survey, a division of the
Institute for Social Research, has released a study confirming the
United States’ pervasive religious beliefs — or
traditional values, as political scientists say.

The study has broad implications for political science research
and raises a number of sociological questions concerning
demography, social welfare, minorities and immigration.

According to the study, 46 percent of American adults attend
church every week, compared to 14 percent in Great Britain, 7
percent in Sweden and 4 percent in Japan.

The study also reported that 58 percent of Americans look for
purpose and meaning in life. Twenty-five percent of British adults
and 26 percent of the Japanese said the same.

Reasons for this phenomenon are numerous. Political science
Prof. Ronald Inglehart, who directs the World Values Survey, said
the widespread theories on secularization and industrialization are
flawed and that the post-modern world actually supports religious
views.

“The post-industrial world, the world of the computer, in
a way, is more compatible with ideas, and, in a sense, magic. You
can tell that you almost understand (technology), but you
don’t really,” Inglehart said.

But technology is not the only cause. Inglehart’s main
thesis is that the United States’ social welfare policy,
which is considerably less extensive than the European model, is a
cause of religious fervor in America.

“The United States is a considerably less expensive
welfare state than other rich countries,” said Inglehart,
referring to the disparity in unemployment services between the
United States and Euope. “One of the really clear factors is
that economic insecurity leads to the need for a higher belief. I
think that the welfare state killed off religious
participation.”

Inglehart also mentioned the rising Hispanic population as
another reason for the results. In general, minority populations in
America tend to be more religious.

Social Work Prof. Robert Taylor said his research supports the
claim that blacks are more religious than whites, but disagreed
with the effect of socioeconomic status on religious
participation.

“Poor blacks are not necessarily more religious than
blacks that have higher levels of income. Because religion is
fairly strong in the black community, you see this across
socioeconomic lines,” Taylor said.

At the University, students of various religions and ethnic
origins have mixed views on the importance of faith in the country
and in the community.

“I think the majority of the people who attend the
University aren’t Christian,” said John Downer,
president of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
“That’s a concern. I think faith is something that
needs to be considered. It’s always better to think about
something and look for the truth in that situation.”

Downer mentioned that, in times of academic and financial
stress, faith is very important.

“Even during the difficult times, God is still
there,” he said.

LSA sophomore Michael Dann said the degree of religious faith
varies amongst Muslim students on campus. For Dann, who goes by
Abdullah, practicing Islam in America is possible, but
challenging.

“I would say that as far as religious freedoms, as far as
legal issues, it’s relatively easy to be a Muslim without
facing any trouble from the government. That’s not to say
that there’s no problem,” he said. But “as far as
the social aspect, it’s not very conducive to being a
Muslim.” Muslim students cannot participate in social
activities such as drinking, an aspect of American culture frowned
upon in Islam.

The World Values Survey draws a significant distinction between
the United States and European nations. Countries like France,
whose main religion is Catholicism, have seen declining religious
involvement.

 

“Among older people, Catholicism is quite important. But
for people under 50 years old, the religion is not very widespread.
Among young people, urban students, there are may be only a few who
practice their religion,” said Engineering grad student
Pierre-Yves Meslin, who is French.

Meslin explained the historical precedent for this trend, which
is markedly different from the United States’ history of
entrenched religious belief.

“In French history, during the revolution, there was a big
separation between the church and state,” he said. As a
result, “there was an anti-clerical spirit that
developed.”

As a nation founded by and large by religious refugees, the
United States has a long history of religious participation.
Successive generations of immigrants have come to this country for
religious freedom, a phenomenon that has perpetuated traditional
values, according to a written release.

 

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