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May 3, 2018 / C H Thompson

Existential security theory

Norris and Inglehart reject the religious market theory by saying that it only applies to America and fails to explain the differences in religiosity between different societies.

They instead argue that the reason for variations in religiosity (strong religious feeling) all come down to different degrees of existential security. Religion meets a need for security and therefore societies where people feel secure have a low level of demand for religion:

  • Poor societies ->  where people face life-threatening risks such as famine, and disease and so have high levels insecurity and so high levels of religiosity.
  • Rich societies -> people have a high standard of living and are less at risk, therefore have a greater sense of security, and in turn lower levels of religiosity

Thus the demand for religion isn’t constant, but varies within societies, which explains why poor third world countries remain religious, while western countries are increasingly secular.

Evaluation

(+) Gill and Lundegaarde found that the more a country spends on welfare, the lower the levels of religious participation. European countries, of whom spend more than the USA are also more secular than the USA.

(-) Vasquez argues that Norris and Inglehart only use quantitative data about income levels, and they don’t examine people’s own definitions of ‘existential security’, he argues that qualitative data is also needed.

(-) Vasquez also says Norris and Inglehart only see religion as a negative response to deprivation. They ignore the positive reasons people have for religious participation, and the appeal some types of religion have for the wealthy.

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