Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Are religion and national identity substitutes?

"Religion is the opium of the people," as Karl Marx said. If religion becomes less important, does national sentiment take over? It was certainly the hope of communist regimes that allegiance to party and country would benefit from repressing religion.

Kenneth Harttgen and Matthias Opfingeruse the World Values Survey to construct an indicator of national identity based on questions about social and political participation and political interest, then applying principal component analysis and calling the resulting principal component "national identity." I have never been particularly fond of this technique, as the naming of the factors is very subjective. For example, in this case it could just as well be called "sense of civic duty," "social participation," or "confidence in politics," none of which necessarily tie in with national pride. In fact, I would say that in many cases where voter turnout is high or people sign petitions is where people are rather upset about where they live. Also, the few questions about country and nationality have a very low weight in the index (total of 18%).

Thus, I am not convinced this indicator measures national identity. But let us assume it does. Harttgen and Opfinger then try and see whether it can be explained by measures of ethnic and religious diversity or polarization. The only one that sticks is religious diversity. Does this mean that religiosity is then a substitute for national identity? The authors think so. It is useful to think here what this "religious diversity" variable measures: the probability that two randomly drawn people belong to the same religious group. I do not see how this would relate to religiosity, that is, the strength of one's attachment to religion. Therefore, one cannot conclude in any way from this study whether religion and national identity are substitutes.

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