By Anand Kulkarni
Dr Anand Kulkarni is Consultant/Principal Adviser to Victoria University, Australia.
Religion is an important and at times highly contentious issue. For many, it is deeply personal—embodying values, beliefs, commitment and faith. Many countries base their institutions, laws and political systems on religious grounds.
Ipsos, an internationally recognised research agency, has conducted a survey of attitudes to religion. It was done across 23 countries, including India, of varying levels of economic development and covering disparate regions of the world. The results are quite revealing.
Respect despite differences
Overall, about one half of the world’s population feel that religion does more harm than good. However, there is significant variation among countries. Undoubtedly, conflict and discord in the world on religious grounds, fanaticism and the like are fuelling this view. This sentiment is more pronounced for a number of countries including India, where 62 percent of the population—which is above the world average—believe in it.
In spite of this, it is fair to say that the majority population in all countries—close to 74 percent—feel completely comfortable around people who have different religious persuasions. This suggests that tolerance and respect for differences do exist, giving hope for a harmonious future. About 85 percent of Indians hold this view, among the highest in the world. The fact that India is a home to many faiths who do co-exist exemplifies this belief. Japan, Belgium, France, Germany and South Korea are among the countries who feel less well disposed to people of different religions.
The paradoxical effect of religion
What is interesting is the importance that Indians place on religion. Although tolerance of different religions is present, what matters is the existence of some core religious belief. Only 16 percent of the world’s population claim that they lose respect for people when they find out they are not religious. However, interestingly and possibly disturbingly, in India this figure is 46 percent—far higher than any other country. Thus, having some sort of religious conviction matters a great deal to Indians.
This is also reinforced by the fact that 62 percent of Indians, close to double the global average and again the highest in the world, claim that religious people are better citizens. There is significant global disparity on this measure. For example, Japan, Sweden, France, Germany and Belgium, have less than 20 percent who hold the view that religious people are better citizens. Of the more economically developed world, the US stands out with a significant 45 percent of people with the same view. Back to India (and a number of other countries), while people consider that religion does more harm than good, they also interestingly believe that it makes for better citizens. Thus, perhaps some distinctions are being made about religion in a personal sense compared to religion in an organised context.
Religion is India’s darling
The importance of religion in the personal domain is reflected in the fact that India leads when it comes to the question of ‘My religion defines me as a person’. Some 70 percent of Indians either strongly or somewhat agree with this statement. Thus, religion is vital for Indians in their perception of others and in their own individual characteristics, values and make-up. Religion in India is a force that links individuals with broader society as well. While the world is split on whether religious practices are important for a moral life, India again leads on this parameter, just ahead of South Africa, Brazil and Peru, who also firmly believe this. In fact, across a number of the parameters, Indians, South Africans and Brazilians have quite a bit in common. Perhaps in some older societies, these values and belief systems are more ingrained.
Overall, though the results do not point to any real commonality by regions of the world, there could be just a faint hint in this survey that fervent religious beliefs are more the domain of less economically well-off countries (with the exception of the US). For Indians, it suffices to say that despite all the social, political and economic changes that are occurring, religion is still a very dearly held matter.
Featured Image Source: VisualHunt
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