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Church and State

Via Ezra Klein (who's interpretation I do not endorse, read Olivier Roy's Globalized Islam and you'll see that radicalism is pretty unrelated to conventional religious observance) an interesting factoid:

I just got the new American Sociological Association's newsletter and there was an interesting article by Mansoor Moaddel, a sociologist from Eastern Michigan. The article was called Prospects for Change in Saudi Arabia, which summed up the content pretty well. The thing that really jumped out at me was a graphic showing the percentage of people who attend religious services at least once a week in America and six Middle-Eastern and West Asian countries. I'd like to think my sense about this stuff isn't too unduly influenced by stereotypes, but I was quite surprised to see that American led this list with 45% of its citizens attending services at least once a week. Jordan was right behind at 44, Egypt and Morocco at 43, Turkey at 38, Saudi Arabia 28, and Iran 27.
What's interesting about this, I think, is that it reenforces the trend we see in the West, where countries that have experienced periods of close church-state ties (France, most of northern Europe) are relatively unobservant compared to countries with a stronger church-state separation. Saudi Arabia and Iran, the most theocratic of Muslim countries, seem to also be the least observant. Another pattern you see is that situations like the anti-Catholic British administration of Ireland, or the anti-Shiite Baathist administration of Iraq, lead to massive enhancements in the prestige and authority of local religious leaders who become spokespeople for the community in a broad sense. Over time this prestige has faded in Ireland and one can probably expect the same if some kind of Shiite regime emerges in Iraq, as now seems most likely. In the least-observant part of the world -- the Orthodox ex-Communist countries -- you had a tradition of close church-state ties, followed by the dawning of anti-religious governments that, rather cleverly, tried to co-opt and infiltrate the local religious authorities rather than simply suppress them. Of course the downside is that global happiness surveys tend to indicate that these are the saddest countries with populations who are significantly less happy than those of other countries whose inhabitants are worse off in tangible ways.

December 8, 2004 | Permalink

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Matthew Yglesias observes: The thing that really jumped out at me was a graphic showing the percentage of people who attend religious services at least once a week in America and six Middle-Eastern and West Asian countries. I'd like to... [Read More]

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Matthew Yglesias est un des bloggers que je lis presque quotidiennement pour son opinion intelligente et cultivée. Cela ne l'empêche pas d'écrire de grosses bêtises telles que celle-ci, à propos du lien entre pratique religieuse et relations Eglis... [Read More]

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Comments

I thought going to a mosque was not required under most interpretations of Islam, and that adhering to the five (?) tenants of Islam were more important. Anyone out there got better info (which likely includes a lot of people)?

Posted by: Ugh | Dec 8, 2004 3:03:24 PM

As I said at Pandagon, I think the 45% number for th U.S. is too high, people regularly lie about such things in order to appear more virtuous. I bet the number is closer to half of that.

Posted by: David P | Dec 8, 2004 3:20:02 PM

A question: Do Muslim women in the Middle East typically attend mosque regularly? If not, it makes these figures look rather different, no?

A little googling leads to webpages that state that "in some Muslim societies overseas, they don't let women in the mosques" and that mosque attendance is mandatory for men, but "permissible" for women. Another says that it a preferable for women to pray at home, but they should be allowed in the mosque.

The basic point is that if you looked instead at the percentage of men who attend religious services at least weekly, you might see very different numbers...

Posted by: Alex R | Dec 8, 2004 3:28:26 PM

One often needs friction, competition or at its extreme, fear of losing something, to appreciate it. Where there is allowed only one religion, as in a theocracy, perhaps one tends to take it for granted. But also...one of the great reasons for separation of church and state is that once religion is merged with state, politics and pragmatism corrupt the religion. In short, it's no longer the same uncorrupted, pure religion. It's politics. And who truly wants to worship that?

Posted by: Debi | Dec 8, 2004 3:35:29 PM

As I said at Pandagon, I think the 45% number for th U.S. is too high

Well, in the US, you can stick a neon cross on an outside toilet and call it a church, so I wouldn't be so sure.

Posted by: ahem | Dec 8, 2004 4:26:03 PM

This data point is consistent with the argument that the USA is a first world country with third world moral values (no derogatory intent, 3rd world morality is not inherently better or worse). The periodic Pew surveys bear this out as well.

But on a technical note, what the Hell is a Muslim religious 'service'. It is better (in a Godly sense) to pray in a group than pray alone, and it is better to pray in a mosque than in a group at home. And yes, women to not generaly attend mosques in many third world countries.

Would a group prayer by women at home be considered a religious 'service'? Is a Quran reading at home a 'service'? Is breaking your fast in a group consered a 'service'? The word 'servie' seems pretty Christian-centric. A different measure of religious fervour (alms giving? scripture reading?) would give a better picture of the devoutness of Muslims versus Christians.

In any case, it's all irrelevant, as I agree with MattY that political radicalism is unrealted (or even inversely related) to conventional religious observance.

Posted by: Ikram | Dec 8, 2004 4:41:15 PM

After spending two months in Morocco, I think the percentage of religious Moroccans is way more than 43%, and wonder with others how they controlled for gender differences. In Fez, they broadcast the sermon from the main mosque on the radio, and tons of people just listened to that. However, I agree with Matt that radicalism is unrelated to observance. The most conservative part of the country I visited was the fringe of the Sahara. Terrorism of Moroccan origin, however, is mainly associated with cities like Tangier and Casablanca also famous for their desperate economic migrants.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Dec 8, 2004 5:52:55 PM

In re: David P's critique: It may well be that some of the 45% are exaggerating, though there is no way it's as low as half that figure. Anyway, what is implied by this critique is that for some unexplained reason Americans would exaggerate their religious attendance but those in other countries would not. That seems an odd claim.

As for the study itself, Eduardo Porter had a piece in the NYT a little over two weeks ago on cross-national comparisons of religiosity. I argued at the time in my blog that a more interesting question with regards to the U.S. isn't that it's so religious, but that the strict religions are gaining members while the less strict are losing members. There is active and, to some, counter-intuitive research on these questions at the nexus of sociology and economics which I find compelling. With respect to this latter question, the question is why, under circumstances when people can make choices about religion, they would choose to become active in ones that impose high costs (eg, tithing, frequent attendance) as opposed to ones with low costs.

Whether you agree with the perspective in this research or not, for those of us on the liberal end of the spectrum, this poses an important political challenge as well. Claims about counter-organizing liberal denominations against the religious right overlook that the liberal ones are on the decline and have been for half a century in this country.

Posted by: Boffo | Dec 8, 2004 7:11:25 PM

[[
Of course the downside is that global happiness surveys tend to indicate that these are the saddest countries with populations who are significantly less happy than those of other countries whose inhabitants are worse off in tangible ways.
]]

We need a cite for this.

Posted by: Mark Buerrig | Dec 8, 2004 7:17:58 PM

David P: As I said at Pandagon, I think the 45% number for th U.S. is too high, people regularly lie about such things in order to appear more virtuous. I bet the number is closer to half of that.

I would also suggest that many of those who *do* attend church regularly are largely nominal in their religiosity: people who attend because it's their cultural heritage, kids who are forced to attend, businessmen and community leaders who find church a good place to network, etc.

Posted by: Chet | Dec 8, 2004 7:29:03 PM

Boffo:

In re: David P's critique: It may well be that some of the 45% are exaggerating, though there is no way it's as low as half that figure.

Weekly religious attendance figures in the 40% and higher range invariably come from notoriously unreliable self-reporting. Objective measures of church attendance indicate that the true attendance rate is on the order of half the reported rate. See, for example, the work of sociologists Hadaway and Marler .

Anyway, what is implied by this critique is that for some unexplained reason Americans would exaggerate their religious attendance but those in other countries would not. That seems an odd claim.

People in other countries do also exaggerate their rates of religious attendance, although the true attendance rates in the other industrialized democracies also tend to be much lower than the true U.S. rates.

I argued at the time in my blog that a more interesting question with regards to the U.S. isn't that it's so religious, but that the strict religions are gaining members while the less strict are losing members.

Organized religion in the developed world is in decline across the board. Some individual sects and denominations are growing, but the overall pattern is down. Liberal denominations tend to be declining more rapidly than conservative ones, but conservative ones are liberalizing and declining also.

Posted by: Don P | Dec 8, 2004 9:52:58 PM

Whether you agree with the perspective in this research or not, for those of us on the liberal end of the spectrum, this poses an important political challenge as well. Claims about counter-organizing liberal denominations against the religious right overlook that the liberal ones are on the decline and have been for half a century in this country.

Yes. The answer isn't to fight bad religion with good religion (there is no good religion), the answer is to fight religion with secularism.

Posted by: Don P | Dec 8, 2004 11:00:48 PM

Don P: We may be talking past each other, but it seemed to me that the point of the blurb was to show, perhaps to the surprise of some, that people in the US attend religious services at least as often as those in a number of large, predominantly Muslim countries. Thus, while the 45% for the US may have overestimated religious expression in this country, the question I raised is whether we have reason to think the rate of overreporting would be any higher here than in those Muslim countries. What the "true" rates are in other industrialized countries seems something for a different post. And rather than the absolute rate of attendance, which no doubt is lower, it seemed the interesting thing was the relative rate of attendance vis-a-vis those Muslim countries. Which was why I asked about the relative rate of overreporting crossnationally.

The second part of my earlier comment concerned attendance in the US, not developed nations generally, as I said. And in this country attendance among relatively strict denominations (eg, Mormon and Southern Baptist) has been increasing while other, less strict mainline Protestant denominations have been decreasing. By saying that "individual sects" are growing implies a more isolated phenomenon than we in fact see. These are not small groups. Finally, it is not at all clear what you mean by "conservative ones are liberalizing and declining also." Liberalizing how? Declining where? As I said, more than a curiosity in comparing us to other countries, the question of who is growing (or declining) relative to whom in this country is of great political significance now.

There is a long line of US-centric research addressing these issues, from Kelly's Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (1972) through Iannaccone's "Why Strict Churches Are Strong" in AJS (1994).

Posted by: Boffo | Dec 8, 2004 11:34:31 PM

boffo:

Thus, while the 45% for the US may have overestimated religious expression in this country, the question I raised is whether we have reason to think the rate of overreporting would be any higher here than in those Muslim countries.

I don't know the answer to that question, but I wasn't addressing it anyway. I was addressing your claim that "there is no way" that the true rate of church attendance in the U.S. is only half the reported rate. As I explained, there is good reason for concluding that the true rate is in fact only about half the reported rate.

Posted by: Don P | Dec 9, 2004 12:35:22 AM

Boffo:

The second part of my earlier comment concerned attendance in the US, not developed nations generally, as I said. And in this country attendance among relatively strict denominations (eg, Mormon and Southern Baptist) has been increasing while other, less strict mainline Protestant denominations have been decreasing. By saying that "individual sects" are growing implies a more isolated phenomenon than we in fact see. These are not small groups.

The sects that are growing do tend to be small. Most of the large ones, liberal and conservative, are in decline. There is virtually no doubt that the overall pattern is decline. You seem to be falsely assuming that reported attendance at religious services alone is an effective measure of the size and health of religious bodies. It is not. The decline I am referring to is a systemic decline in American religiosity, as measured by a variety of metrics of religious belief and behavior, including (but not limited to) rates of attendance at religious services.

I would be interested in citations to the studies that you claim show an increase in church attendance amoung Southern Baptists and other large religious denominations, since the evidence I have seen all points to a decline in attendance rates in most denominations, consistent with a decline in most other metrics of religiosity.

Finally, it is not at all clear what you mean by "conservative ones are liberalizing and declining also." Liberalizing how? Declining where?

Declining in the United States and throughout the developed world. And by "liberalizing" I mean adopting more progressive and pluralistic social and theological doctrines and positions.

Posted by: Don P | Dec 9, 2004 12:57:52 AM

We can't fight religion with secularism. We can fight religion with atheism or agnosticism, or we can fight theocracy with secularism, though.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Dec 9, 2004 1:19:06 AM

Don P & Boffo:

Growing or declining, some cites would be nice.

Also, granting that one can fight religion with atheism, agnosticism or even pointy sticks, why exactly is it that religion has to be fought? Just asking.

Posted by: Dick Eagleson | Dec 9, 2004 5:57:22 AM

"Yes. The answer isn't to fight bad religion with good religion (there is no good religion), the answer is to fight religion with secularism."

But, Don, there are some pretty bad secularisms out there, too. And I've noticed that only the worst of them are really concerned with fighting religion, as opposed to simply not being religious.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Dec 9, 2004 6:45:34 AM

Can the modern French Republic be lumped together with countries that have established state churches? Apart from spending government money on the upkeep of cathedrals, France seems to be one of the few de jure and de facto secular societies. (Unlike, say, the US, which is secular only de jure, or the converse example of the UK or Netherlands.)

Posted by: Grumpy | Dec 9, 2004 8:38:42 AM

In France the churh and the state is separate since 1905.
That's why the headscarfe is forbiden in public school since few months. Like yarmulke and too much visible christian cross.
In moslem country (I know only Algeria and Morocco) most of women don't go to mosque and men especially over 40 years old.
I think that 80/90% of mn over 40 go to mosque.

Posted by: JLS | Dec 9, 2004 9:39:08 AM

Don P and Dick Eagleson: I'll repeat the cites I put in my previous post:

"There is a long line of US-centric research addressing these issues, from Kelly's Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (1972) through Iannaccone's 'Why Strict Churches Are Strong' in AJS (1994)."

Yes, the overall trend in the US is decline, but within that decline some rather large conservative churches have been on the increase -- more than five million Mormons, more than fifteen million Southern Baptists, a million Jehovah's Witnesses, and others. We're not talking some obscure denomination like Swedenborgians here. As a result, in contrast to other developed nations which have seen a somewhat precipitous decline, in the US it has been shallow.

Another point that I think was obscured by this debate over numbers, but which I discuss a little more on my blog, is that it is not just a matter of attendance numbers. The conservative denominations are also better organized and funded than the liberal ones, among other things making it easier for them to attract new members but also to organize politically. It should be emphasized that this is a phenomenon that has built for half a century -- it didn't start with the Moral Majority and their ilk.

The Hadaway and Marler research, while it makes a compelling argument that some overreporting occurs, applies an overly strict standard to evaluate attendance to help reach that conclusion. Their research lacks any nuance. Even so, their research does not say it would be "half" of the 45% figure. In fact, the answer is somewhere in between, probably somewhere in the 30s, closer to 40% or 30% depending on how one conceives of "attendance." See Tom Smith in ASR (1998) for some discussion of these definitional issues. To get back to the original post, what this says about the ranking of the US relative to the Muslim countries listed, I have no idea, but in itself is not reason to doubt the relative rankings.

Posted by: Boffo | Dec 9, 2004 10:41:51 AM

boffo:

"There is a long line of US-centric research addressing these issues, from Kelly's Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (1972) through Iannaccone's 'Why Strict Churches Are Strong' in AJS (1994)."

What studies do those books reference showing growth in conservative Churches? Your first citation is to a book that is more than 30 years old. Since much of the decline has happened since that time, its relevance is limited.

The three large-scale national studies of American religiosity, the General Social Survey of the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, the National Election Studies surveys, and CUNY's American Religious Identification Survey, have all found major declines in levels of American religious identification. These findings are consistent with other metrics of American religiosity that also show major declines, and with similar studies in other industrialized countries

some rather large conservative churches have been on the increase -- more than five million Mormons, more than fifteen million Southern Baptists, a million Jehovah's Witnesses, and others.

Please cite the data on which these claims are based. The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey found that the proportion of American adults identifying as Baptist declined from 19% in 1990 to 16% in 2001. There was also a drop in the absolute number of self-identified Baptists, despite significant growth of the U.S. population during that period. Self-identified Mormons declined from 1.4% of the population to 1.3%. Jehovah's Witnesses declined from 0.78% to 0.64% (and also showed a decline in absolute numbers). For Christianity as a whole, the proportion of Americans identifying as Christian of any type declined by about 10 percentage points during the same period, a staggering rate of decline. Some small non-Christian religions have grown, but their growth isn't remotely large enough to compensate for the decline of Christianity. The biggest change has been the dramatic increase in the proportion of the population reporting no religious affiliation.

Posted by: Don P | Dec 9, 2004 12:23:04 PM

boffo:

Another point that I think was obscured by this debate over numbers, but which I discuss a little more on my blog, is that it is not just a matter of attendance numbers.

Right. That's what I said in my posts to you last night. Church service attendance numbers alone (and, especially, self-reports of church attendance, which are notoriously unreliable) are not an effective measure of the overall state of American religious belief and practise. You have to look at a variety of metrics. And almost all the data points to a significant overall decline, amoung both liberal and conservative religions.

The conservative denominations are also better organized and funded than the liberal ones, among other things making it easier for them to attract new members

What new members?

The Hadaway and Marler research, while it makes a compelling argument that some overreporting occurs, applies an overly strict standard to evaluate attendance to help reach that conclusion. Their research lacks any nuance.

I don't know what this is supposed to mean. What "nuance" is missing?

Even so, their research does not say it would be "half" of the 45% figure. In fact, the answer is somewhere in between, probably somewhere in the 30s, closer to 40% or 30% depending on how one conceives of "attendance."

Hadaway and Marler have conducted a number of studies of church attendance overreporting, with somewhat different results. By the most objective measures (actually counting the number of attendees and comparing it to reported attendance rates), the true attendance rate is about half the reported rate. See, for example, this study for details.

Posted by: Don P | Dec 9, 2004 12:41:30 PM

Apart from spending government money on the upkeep of cathedrals, France seems to be one of the few de jure and de facto secular societies. (Unlike, say, the US, which is secular only de jure, or the converse example of the UK or Netherlands.) Posted by: Grumpy

Left out of this discussion is the most populous part of the world - Asia.

India is a nominally religious nation, but China, Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan, and the whole of SE Asia are, thankfully, fairly non-religious (compared to the ME and the evengalicals in the US), the exceptions being the apparently growing influence of Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia. Even in those two countries, it isn't difficult to find a beer.

Posted by: Jeff I | Dec 9, 2004 1:57:20 PM

Don P: Frankly, this is getting boring and repetitive. For a third time, check out the Iannaccone article I cited. Also check out this website for an extensive bibliography and a number of publications available online. To see what I mean by the lack of nuance in the Hadaway and Marler research, check out the Tom Smith article I cited in my previous post as a comparison and the multiple ways people think about "attendance." (Interestingly, in their 1998 ASR article they cite the Smith piece but never grapple with any of his substantive claims, a telling oversight.) Finally, the Hadaway and Marler article you pointed to is all very interesting, but it is a study of a single church, just as their other research was based on a single county in Ohio. Far from definitive.

Posted by: Boffo | Dec 9, 2004 6:08:25 PM

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