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Religious Intolerance and the Strength of Religiosity

As we see demonstrations against an anti-Islam film in many Muslim countries, Professor Pippa Norris has published an informative blog post, arguing, based on empirical data, that there is a strong link between the strength of religiosity and religious intolerance, “irrespective of the predominant type of faith in each society.”

She wrote:

The 6th wave of the World Values Survey (conducted in 2010-2012) measured the strength of religiosity by asking respondents to place themselves on a 10-point ‘importance of God’ scale. The survey also asked people to agree or disagree (on a 4-point scale) with the statement ‘The only acceptable religion is my religion’. The results below show the strong link between the strength of religiosity and faith-based tolerance. It is true that Muslim-predominant societies such as Qatar and Morocco turn out to be both highly religious and least tolerant of other faiths. Central Asian ‘stans’ are also intolerant. But some other highly religious Catholic and Orthodox societies are also moderately intolerant, exemplified by followers of the Apostolic Church in Armenia, Christians in Ghana, and Catholics in Poland and Mexico. By contrast the most secular societies under comparison also prove the most tolerant, such as Lutheran Sweden and Estonia, Catholic Spain, Protestant New Zealand, Buddhist South Korea.

Levels of economic development are also clearly at work behind these patterns, with the more affluent and educated societies usually displaying the most secular and tolerant profile. Education has long been found to strength social tolerance. The United States, by contrast, is very religious and in the middle of the distribution for religious tolerance, not exceptionally high like Sweden and New Zealand. Similar patterns are evident and the results remain robust if we compare alternative indicators, such as of trust in people from another faith.

Thus it seems likely, as demonstrated in detail elsewhere (Norris and Inglehart 2011) that social tolerance is being driven more by societal levels of affluence and poverty, and thus by the strength of religiosity, more than by any particular type of faith.

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