The concept of religion has been deeply embedded in society for millennia and includes an array of different beliefs. Over the world’s history, the nature and understanding of religion have changed multiple times, as well as its importance in global affairs. While it was an integral component of all social levels in the past, the views on religion have changed significantly in recent decades. Indeed, there are mixed reports regarding religiosity in different parts of the world, and today’s society is characterized by the all-time highest level of diversity. Therefore, there are multiple variables that may shape each individual’s views on an array of aspects. Religiosity is one of such aspects, and it serves as an area of intense research interest due to its possible relation to various personal factors. It is often implied that there is a direct correlation between one’s socioeconomic status and the degree of religiosity. The purpose of this paper is to examine the possibility of such correlation within the framework of the world’s leading nations and religions.
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The Concept of Religiosity
General Understanding of Religion
Religion is a universal and complex phenomenon that has existed for centuries worldwide. All cultures, not necessarily related to one another, developed their own beliefs at some stage of their progress. Roberts and Yamane (2011) state that the concept of religion comprises many aspects, including “rituals, symbols, values, moods, and motivations” (p. 11). In addition, all these elements are deeply intertwined with various sides of the social framework. Moreover, the strength of such connection is different for each stage of history and even areas of modern society. In general, religious beliefs aim at providing people with a sense of purpose and order in life, as well as finding meaning in possible suffering (Roberts & Yamane, 2011). In other words, the purpose of religiosity is to arrange ambiguous concepts and puzzles of life that would otherwise be inconceivable. This goal is attained through a system of symbols and rituals that exist within a larger framework of a given religion.
On the other hand, religiosity has been engraved in the world’s social system for a long time. Researches divide religious cognition into two major stages: shamanic and doctrinal (Watts, 2020). During the first period, religion had a somewhat intuitive nature. Spoken differently, people reacted to inconceivable phenomena in a disorganized way and adapted to them by inventing ambiguous concepts as an attempt to provide an explanation. Watts (2020) refers to studies that considered trance dancing, one of the primary elements of shamanic religions, as a means of collective consolidation and endorphin release. As society evolved, so did people’s religious cognition, gaining order and influence. Watts (2020) states that later stages of global development led to the more complex and institutionalized religious behavior that was described above. It is characterized by rituals that were still important and more frequent while being less intense than their shamanic counterparts were (Watts, 2020). Nowadays, the vast majority of religions correspond with the doctrinal type, as they demonstrate a substantial level of organization. While symbols, rituals, and values may vary, they are, in most part, commonly shared by all followers of a particular religion.
In fact, there are various definitions regarding the very phenomenon of religion, and some of them focus on a particular aspect. Roberts and Yamane (2011) refer to Clifford Geertz’s symbolic definition of the term as one of the most detailed approaches. According to it, symbols play a crucial part in the paradigm of religiosity, being “powerful forces in human behavior” (Roberts & Yamane, 2011, p. 8). The purpose of symbols is to serve as the mediators between the abstract nature of religion and its followers. In other words, they provide meaning and order for believers, arranging otherwise inconceivable aspects. As a result, symbols remain the cornerstone of religion, evoking the most powerful associations in the followers’ minds. The list of examples may include such objects as the Holy Cross and the Star of David. Simultaneously, according to the discussed approach, ritualistic behaviors and myths may also serve as symbols (Roberts & Yamane, 2011). They include, for example, the creation of the world by God in seven days or facing Mecca during prayers. Therefore, it is possible to call religion a system of symbols, serving to provide an understanding of the world order.
General Understanding of Religiosity
At the same time, the concept of religiosity refers to the extent to which the aforementioned aspects of a religion are shared by an individual, a community, or society. Lyman (2020) states that the historical perspective on this matter consists of “fragmented and contested” data (para. 5). This situation may be caused by the lack of credible sources, as those that have survived until nowadays might reflect a somewhat subjective worldview. Moreover, Lyman (2020) adds that the issue remains controversial even today due to the multifaceted nature of the concept. In other words, there are different approaches and criteria regarding the measurement of religiosity, which prevents researchers from gathering objective statistical information. Nowadays, this type of data is usually collected through a community or nationwide census. In this case, people answer particular questions related to their worldview and association with a particular religion (Lyman, 2020). The information is then subjected to statistical analysis and presented to the public.
Nevertheless, there are several limitations to this instrument of measuring religiosity. First of all, each individual may have a different perception of the degree of adherence to the dogmas, which is enough to proclaim their association with religion. For example, one person may believe in God and participate in rituals on rare occasions, whereas the second individual goes to church each Sunday and prays daily. It is possible that the first respondent will admit their religiosity, while the second one would deem it insufficient. Accordingly, personal perception is a major factor that may influence the statistical information in question. Secondly, there are objective differences between religions in terms of the strictness of their policies. Some of them may consider the 21st-century busy lifestyle a valid reason not to partake in some rituals, while others impose severe restrictions on the everyday activities of their followers. Finally, religious affiliation is a matter of personal discretion, which is why people must not be expected to be completely candid when discussing their views. Therefore, religiosity tendencies, despite being an area of interest for social sciences, can be researched on the basis of limited and somewhat subjective information.
Aspects which Influence Religiosity
Generally speaking, it is possible to analyze the tendencies influencing one’s style of religiosity within the context of several aspects that exist in the societal environment. As mentioned above, religion has been embedded in people’s lives since the emergence of first civilizations. Therefore, it is possible to consider it an integral component of 21st-century society as well. Nevertheless, nowadays, social systems are as complex as ever, thus adding new variables to the existing relations between their various aspects. First of all, today’s society demonstrates a different way of stratification, which is influenced by an array of factors. Roberts and Yamane (2011) refer to education as one of the primary instruments of social mobility. Indeed, quality education is now available to a broader range of people in comparison to the previous centuries. At the same time, different religions demonstrate varying views on secular studies. Roberts and Yamane (2011) state that some Protestant fundamentalist groups exhibit anti-intellectual tendencies, standing against secular education, while Jewish communities show opposite views. Therefore, religious affiliation has an effect on a person’s choice of study and the opportunity to excel at it.
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On the other hand, there may be a correlation in the opposite direction as well, meaning that individuals who reach a certain level of personal development might reconsider their religious views. Stoet and Geary (2017) examined the issue within the context of science and mathematics and concluded that students from countries with higher religiosity levels showed poorer results in the aforementioned fields. The research suggests that women demonstrated increased religiosity in comparison to men, but this difference did not relate to educational performance (Stoet & Geary, 2017). The issue might stem from the fact that such societies devote considerable attention to religious studies, thus decreasing the time that could be spent on other aspects of education.
At the same time, the tendency can be explained from a different perspective as well. As mentioned above, strict religious communities may impose additional restrictions on their members’ involvement in science. It is generally known that one of the purposes of such disciplines as physics and mathematics is to provide an explanation for the fundamental issues of the universe. This list includes the formation of the Earth and the emergence of life in general. It is possible that the communities see this knowledge as a threat, as it may contradict the fundamental dogmas of their religions. Simultaneously, students who pursue quality secular education might begin to question some of these postulates. As a result, their style of religiosity is likely to change, despite possible influence from their home community. Overall, the clash between religion and science has become a topical issue following recent advancements in terms of research. Most congregations tend to cope with the new discoveries and acknowledge them within their paradigm, while others remain alarmed.
Age and Employment Status
As far as other aspects are concerned, it is possible to study religiosity in the context of age. According to Stearns et al. (2018), “previous research has suggested that individuals tend to become more religious with age” (p. 522). Indeed, it is possible to suggest that older generations form the majority core of most congregations. There are several factors that may contribute to this tendency. First, as a rule, retired people have more time, as they do not have to spend most parts of their days at work. One’s job is usually a demanding activity in terms of both time and effort, which may serve as the primary purpose in life, being the guarantee of income and stability. Once this variable is removed from the equation, retired people may experience the need to search for meaning in their days. Accordingly, the tendency described by Stearns et al. (2018) has reasonable grounds and can be observed in society. As it was mentioned above, one of the main objectives of each religion is related to that purpose, as they serve to provide the understanding and a sense of direction in life.
Each individual may face severe health-related issues at any stage of their life. The range of conditions may vary from minor cases to debilitating and terminal illnesses. Logically, one may assume that such issues have an impact on people’s style of religiosity. This matter is often examined in the context of patients suffering from lethal conditions, namely cancer. Nejat et al. (2016) refer to religiosity as one of the key coping instruments in such cases. According to their research, the majority of participants with cancer admitted to having stronger religious beliefs as a source of support in their conditions. This tendency seems logical, as it corresponds with the purposes of religion described above. Cancer patients experience extreme suffering and seek reasons to justify it. At the same time, religious dogmas aim at providing an explanation for such unfortunate situations, which makes terminally ill individuals more responsive to them, disregarding previous views. Moreover, such patients are terrified by the prospects of their imminent deaths. In this case, religions serve to ensure the possibility of the afterlife and rewards for suffering on Earth.
On the other hand, there may be other conditions that are related to one’s mental health rather than physical. It is often discussed whether there are any religiosity-related tendencies in this scenario as well. According to Stearns et al. (2018), existing research has demonstrated “that as individuals become more religious, they report decreases in depressive symptoms” (p. 522). These observations may stem from the social side of religion, as it unites people with similar views in one congregation and promotes socializing. As it is known, depression, among other mental conditions, becomes a topical issue toward older age, but research suggests that a high level of religiosity is able to mitigate the negative effects (Stearns et al., 2018). Therefore, it is possible to say that people experiencing mental illnesses may also turn to religion as one of the therapy options.
Evidently, the factors that were discussed above are not the only ones that may influence a person’s style of religiosity. Apart from education, age, employment, and health conditions, each individual may face particular, more specific issues that might entail a surge or a decrease in their religious beliefs. For example, Henrich et al. (2019) state that being in the zone of a military conflict tends to increase one’s religiosity. It happens due to the religion’s role in “galvanizing social solidarity and motivating in-group cooperation” (Henrich et al., 2019, p. 129). As a result, religiosity serves as the facilitator for a range of actions that require wide social cooperation, including organized resistance or collective aggression. Evidently, the range of other factors that have an impact on one’s style of religiosity extends further, but these cases are individual and specific in the context of the present research.
Religiosity and Socioeconomic Status
The connection between religiosity and socioeconomic status serves as an area of intense interest for researchers. This topic is particularly interesting in the modern environment due to high levels of social diversity. One’s socioeconomic status refers to a combination of aspects, including the person’s wealth and other’s opinions regarding them. Similar to religiosity, it is possible to examine the concept of socioeconomic status in the context of the same factors that contribute to it. Quality education plays a crucial role in forming one’s professional competencies, thus being a key factor of success in life. Therefore, it is possible to assume that there is a direct correlation between a person’s education and socioeconomic status. As was discussed above, high levels of religiosity tend to correspond with poorer education performance. Accordingly, better socioeconomic status is usually combined with decreased religiosity from this point of view.
Secondly, one’s employment status demonstrates an obvious relation to socioeconomic status. Evidently, not having a stable source of income due to unemployment has a negative impact on a person’s wealth and social perception. At the same time, it was reported that unemployment or retirement often entail higher levels of engagement in religious activities. On the other hand, retirement and age, in general, do not show the same correlation with one’s socioeconomic status. Nevertheless, this group of factors exhibits similar tendencies, meaning that lower quality of life corresponds with increased religiosity.
Finally, health-related issues may have an impact on the person’s socioeconomic status as well. According to the research previously described in this paper, serious mental and physical conditions lead to extreme levels of religiosity. At the same time, such illnesses are expected to have a negative impact on the patients’ financial situation. Following an array of debilitating and lethal conditions, people are likely to lose the ability to perform well in their areas of expertise. In addition, quality healthcare may entail substantial expenditures. As a result, such patients’ quality of life plummets, and their socioeconomic status may also be compromised. Therefore, the third group of factors also highlights the relation between one’s socioeconomic status and religiosity.
On the other hand, it is possible that there are other aspects that influence both socioeconomic status and religiosity. Nevertheless, practical observations tend to confirm the findings presented above. As a rule, people from poorer regions and communities tend to demonstrate higher levels of religiosity. Perhaps, this may be their way of coping with the difficulties of life. In addition, religion attempts to provide meaning and explanation for the obvious disparities of modern society. At the same time, people with higher income and better socioeconomic situations are rarely expected to be religious. The exact reasons may vary depending on their cultural and religious backgrounds, but there are objective tendencies as well. Good quality of life usually requires higher education and significant efforts, leaving little or no time to partake in religious activities. As far as the author of the present research is concerned, family socioeconomic status combined with a desire to pursue a higher education degree amounts to a moderate level of religiosity. Overall, the presented findings seem to apply to the practical observation regarding the relationship between socioeconomic status and religiosity.
Summary and Conclusion
In conclusion, religion has been an integral part of society for millennia. It consists of a system of symbols serving to provide meaning and purpose in life. The modern societal landscape is characterized by high levels of diversity, which has altered the religiosity tendencies. As the research shows, one’s socioeconomic status and style of religiosity are influenced by similar factors. These findings make it possible to assume that there is, indeed, a correlation between the two concepts. Overall, general observations suggest that higher socioeconomic status usually corresponds with decreased religiosity and vice versa.
Henrich, J., Bauer, M., Cassar, A., Chytilova, J., & Purzycki, B. G. (2019). War increases religiosity. Nature Human Behaviour, 3(2), 129-135. Web.
Lyman, S. (2020). Promise and peril: the history of American religiosity and its recent decline. AEI Paper & Studies. Web.
Nejat, N., Whitehead, L., & Crowe, M. (2016). The use of spirituality and religiosity in coping with colorectal cancer. Contemporary Nurse, 53(1), 48-59. Web.
Roberts, K. A., & Yamane, D. (2011). Religion in sociological perspective (5th ed.). SAGE Publications.
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Stearns, M., Nadorff, D. K., Lantz, E. D., & McKay, I. T. (2018). Religiosity and depressive symptoms in older adults compared to younger adults: Moderation by age. Journal of Effective Disorders, 238, 522-525. Web.
Stoet, G., & Geary, D. C. (2017). Students in countries with higher levels of religiosity perform lower in science and mathematics. Intelligence, 62, 71-78. Web.
Watts, F. (2020). The evolution of religious cognition. Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 42(1), 89-100. Web.