Extinction of Religion

The BBC’s Jason Palmer breathlessly reports on a new study which suggests that “religion may go extinct” in nine nations (Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland). This is a classic case of what is known in accounting of “garbage in, garbage out” or GIGO.

The study authors relied on census data which asks about a person’s religious affiliation. While it is a well known fact that fewer Europeans formally identify themselves with particular religions, this is not a measure of religiosity or “spiritualism.”

As the sociologist Rodney Stark has demonstrated in several papers (including this classic), religiosity is alive and well in these countries and the secularization thesis is “well and truly dead.” Census forms are too crude an instrument to measure things like beliefs in the supernatural and non-standard religion.

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