Religious tolerance may hold the key to economic growth, says new study

Smay bring economic prosperity, a new study has shown. The popularly held convention has been that as nations become wealthier, the spread and access to education helps citizens move beyond religion.

However, a new 109-country study has shown that changes in religious beliefs may predate a country’s economic progress. It indicates that changes in religious beliefs preceded economic development in the 20th century.

Researchers from University of Bristol (UK) and Tennessee (US) found a relation between changing values of the world regarding religion and secularism and gross domestic products (GDP) of nations across a period of 100 years. The more countries moved away from religion, the higher their GDPs grew.


The study, published in the journal Science Advances, utilises data from the World Values Survey, European Values Survey, and (to measure individual nations’ GDP) the Maddison Project.

The two values surveys asked respondents questions related to the importance of God in their lives, whether they identify as a religious person, and how often they attend religious services. The surveys also asked respondents their views concerning homosexuality, divorce, suicide, and abortion.

The study found that an increase by a single unit of a quantitative measure of secularism corresponded to a $1,000 increase in per capita GDP after 10 years, $2,800 after 20 years, and $5,000 after 30 years.

The subject has been long debated with noted German sociologist Max Weber having once said that the Protestant ethic of hard work, efficiency and success was responsible for modern capitalism.

On the other hand, the wave of liberalism in the 17th and 18th century sought to separate state from the Church, placing an emphasis on science and technology to propel individual growth.

Adam Smith, a Scottish economist and one of the earliest propounders of liberal economics, believed that material self-interest, rather than altruism or charity (a key principle of religion) would lead to a wealthy society.

While it cannot be said if changes in religious attitudes are the sole predictor of economic prosperity, the new study does provide significant data to discuss the impact religion has on the economy. It posits tolerance for individual rights as the ultimate driver for growth. This is for a very simple reason — the more an individual is socially accepted, the greater is their participation in economic activity.

Damian Ruck, the author of the study, said in a public release, “Our findings show that secularisation precedes economic development and not the other way around. However, we suspect the relationship is not directly causal. We noticed that secularisation only leads to economic development when it is accompanied by a greater respect for individual rights.

However, the study does not imply that countries that are religious can not progress economically. “(That) isn’t to say that religious countries can’t become prosperous. Religious institutions need to find their own way of modernising and respecting the rights of individuals” Ruck said.

The findings may prove significant for India as concerns about communal divide are only growing louder in the nation.




News credit : Indiatoday

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