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February 8, 2013

Religious influence persists in emerging economies

As its economy grows and lifestyles change, China is having to adapt its tightly controlled society to external influences. This week Can Nao, a Chinese charity worker revealed, he had been arrested over the Christmas period after meeting to worship in a public park. Shortly after, Shanghai’s former Communist chief stated that while the government would continue to respect religious freedom, it would also seek to adapt belief to the existing system.

GlobeScan’s polling reveals that attitudes towards faith and religious institutions are mixed in China. Our recent polling reveals that the nation’s population are among the most likely to say that science has a strong bearing on the way they live their lives (72%), with only the French and South Koreans more likely to hold this point of view.

However, many Chinese still acknowledge religious institutions’ role within society. Even in this secular country, one in three (31%) says religious groups are doing a good job in tackling social, economic, and environmental issues—some way below the numbers who say scientists are doing a good job (59%), but still a significant proportion.

India meanwhile has a near identical proportion (31%) who say religious groups are doing a good job of tackling challenges, though the proportion who rate scientists’ contribution is lower than in China (41%). Indians, however, are much more likely than Chinese to say that religion determines the way they look at life.

The country who people are most likely to say that religion, rather than science, influences how they live their lives is Pakistan—a country where the clash between fundamentalist and moderate interpretations of Islam continues to cause major political instability. Even here, though, the situation is more mixed when we look at how these groups are dealing with social issues, with scientists more likely to be seen as doing a good job (35%) than clerics (16%).

Contrast this with France, a country with a long anti-clerical tradition, where 76 percent identify science as being an important factor in the way they look at the world, and 80 percent see scientists doing a good job tackling social challenges, while the rating for religious groups stands at -26 percent.

These figures suggest that the influence of religion on populations will wane as countries develop. For now, however, China is the exception rather than the rule—faith and religious institutions will remain key factors in many of the world’s emerging economies. We can expect to see their influence both at the level of policy and in terms of consumer choice for a while yet.

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