Bengaluru: Many religions preach turning to God in times of strife, and evidence suggests that may be actually what happens across the world. A recent paper by Jeanet Sinding Bentzen of the University of Copenhagen shows that unpredictable adverse shocks result in people seeking a closer relationship with God or finding a reason for the event by attributing it to an act of God. To measure adverse life events, the author uses earthquakes, which are difficult to predict as well as quantifiable and well-documented.

To measure religiosity, she uses results from the World Values Survey and European Values Study, which ask questions on the importance of God and religion in one’s life. The combined data allows her to analyse the effect of earthquake risk on religiosity for 424,099 individuals across 96 countries during 1981-2009.

She finds that individuals in districts with higher earthquake risk are more religious than those living in areas with lower earthquake risk. A one standard deviation increase in earthquake risk is seen to increase religiosity by 8-11% of a standard deviation and the effect is more pronounced in districts with low average incomes, education and population densities.

Even on non-survey measures, religiosity increases. For instance, people were seen to search Google for “God", “Jesus", “the Bible", and “Pray" more often in US states where earthquake risk was higher. According to the author, this happens because religious coping is a type of emotion-focused coping which helps manage distress. While the short-term spike in religiosity abates with time, like cultural values, religiosity too is passed on to future generations.

The paper shows that individuals with parents from countries with high earthquake risk are more religious than those with parents from low earthquake risk areas. These findings support earlier studies that have shown negative shocks, such as unemployment and divorce, can increase faith and highlight the enduring power of religion.

ALSO READ | Acts of God? Religiosity and Natural Disasters Across Subnational World Districts

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