Why is superstition more resilient than religion?

Posted on June 24, 2007

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There is an interesting mismatch in the recent history of religion and superstition. As I have repeatedly stated, it seems to me that the level of superstitious beliefs has remained largely unaffected by various measures designed to fight it. Much the same could be said for religion – in the post-communist countries where religion was fought by the government it managed to maintain its strength. However, the level of religiosity has actually radically dropped in all-bar-one of the developed western countries where no-one was really fighting against it. Everywhere except the US, levels of religious belief are now much lower than they ever have. And here is the interesting difference: I am not aware of a similar drop in the levels of belief in superstition.

The reason why this is interesting is, of course, due to the intuitive connection between religion and superstition and to religion’s much greater cultural force in previous days. As is all too often the case in the social sciences, we don’t understand why religion should atrophy away in most developed societies: which does not give a good start to trying to understand why superstition has not been disappearing, of course. None-the-less, the point is one that should be made whenever the discussion of the relationship between religion and superstition gets raised.

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