Religious people want religious leaders – of any religion

Religious people want religious leaders – of any religion January 21, 2012

A lot of people think that the Muslim world is just fundamentally different from the Christian world. That’s the basis for the idea that we’re facing a clash of civilisations (a theory put forward by the American political scientist Samuel Huntingdon back in 1993).

One aspect of the theory says that religion is more tightly integrated into the political structure in Muslim countries. The idea is that the power structures of Christian religious institutions are separated from the secular power structures, which makes it easier to separate Church and State.

A team of social scientists lead by Nate Breznau at the University of Breman set out to test this idea by seeing whether Muslims really are more likely to want religious leaders, and to do this they used data from the World Values Survey.

When you look at the raw data, it turns out that yes, if you average out across the word then Muslims are quite a lot more likely to want religious leaders. However, it turns out that that’s partly to do with the relative poverty of many Muslim countries, and also that Muslims tend simply to be more devout.  Other important factors include the high level of corruption in many Muslim countries.

The graph to the right shows the relative importance of all the different factors they unearthed.

You can see clearly that religious devotion is one of the most important factors driving support for religious leaders, and that this doesn’t really differ between Christians and Muslims.

So far so good. Religious people prefer religious leaders – which is, after all only what you might expect. What you might not expect, however, is that religious people prefer religious leaders of any religion!

So, for example, devout Christians living in Muslim majority countries still want religious leaders – even though those leaders would almost certainly be Muslims, rather than Christians.

What’s more, Christians in Muslim countries are as likely to want religious leaders as Muslims in Muslim countries. Which just goes to show that it’s the characteristics of the country, and not the religion, that’s the driving factor.

It seems that this aspect, at least, of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theory is a fantasy. The clash here is not between two different religions, but rather between the religious and the non-religious.
Breznau, N., Lykes, V., Kelley, J., & Evans, M. (2011). A Clash of Civilizations? Preferences for Religious Political Leaders in 86 Nations Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 50 (4), 671-691 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2011.01605.x

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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