New research: Religion binds people culturally across geographic borders

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People who share the same religious beliefs have unique, common, cultural traits, that persist across geographic and political boundaries.

This is the key finding from new research by York University (Canada), the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of British Colombia.

The research, Cultural similarity among coreligionists within and between countries, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, set out to test whether people who share the same religious beliefs and commitments, could share cultural values despite geographic distance. The co-authors include former UBC Psychology PhD students Dr. Cindel White and Dr. Michael Muthukrishna, and UBC Psychology Professor Dr. Ara Norenzayan.

To do this, the researchers used a tool called the Cultural Fixation Index (CFst) which is designed to measure the psychological and cultural distance between societies. Using the CFst statistical technique, the authors applied responses from 243,118 individuals across 88 countries who had completed the World Values Survey between 2005 to 2019.

They found that people who affiliated with a world religion displayed unique patterns of cultural traits and were more culturally similar, both within and across countries, than those who do not share a religion.

“Religion is a ‘super-ethnic identity’, binding people from different backgrounds, beyond national borders. We find evidence for this hypothesis: people in different countries are culturally similar to their fellow citizens, but also to people in distant lands who share their religious identity and commitment.”
Study Co-Author, LSE

The authors also found that while religious groups do differ from non-religious groups, the degree in cultural differences varied. Christians, Jews and Buddhists were quite similar to non-religious groups among many dimensions. However, the distance between Hindu, Druze and Ancestral Worshipping groups and non-religious groups was large.

The authors note that despite living in different national cultures, people who do not affiliate with a religion share cultural traits to a degree, providing future avenues for research in this area.

This news release was originally published by the London School of Economics.