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Natural disasters ‘make people more religious’

19 July 2019

Observance of religion increases after an earthquake, a study suggests


A tourist walks down a collapsed cliff after a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck Bali, Indonesia, on Tuesday. There was reportedly no potential for a tsunami

A tourist walks down a collapsed cliff after a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck Bali, Indonesia, on Tuesday. There was reportedly no potential for a ts...

PEOPLE in areas that suffer natural disasters are more likely to be religious than those in areas without them, a study has suggested.

The study, by Jeanet Bentzen of the University of Copenhagen, was published in The Economic Journal. It finds that religiosity increases by 7.6 per cent in an area that had experienced a recent earthquake, when compared with an area that had not experienced one.

Ms Bentzen writes: “Exploiting natural disasters as a determinant of random and adverse life events, I found that individuals across the globe become more religious when hit by earthquakes. Particularly individuals in districts that are otherwise rarely hit. The effect of any earthquake lasts six to 12 years, but a residual impact remains and is transmitted across generations.”

She used global surveys and internet data for her study, as well as using historic research. For example, Ms Bentzen writes: “Church membership increased by 50 per cent in US states hit by massive earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, compared with one per cent in other states.” More people converted to religion in Christchurch after its 2011 earthquake than in the rest of New Zealand, she also writes.

Ms Bentzen further argues: “People are more religious in areas with a high risk of earthquakes or tsunamis, but even more so if the risk of both disasters is high. Increased risk of volcanic eruptions also increases religiosity, but only in districts within 1000 km of a volcanic-eruption zone, most likely due to the spatial concentration of volcanic eruption.”

Storms and hurricanes, however, do not cause an increase in religiosity. Ms Bentzen accounts for this by saying that it is unpredictable disasters that have an impact, whereas weather systems can be predicted.

Those who live in areas adjacent to those affected by natural disaster also became more religious, the study shows.

She concludes: “Earthquakes increase religiosity across the major religious denominations, confirrming the idea by early scholars such as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud that all religions provide a psychological coping mechanism. . .

“Religious coping provides a stable reason for why people believe in God. Coping, therefore, may be one reason why religion has not vanished as some scholars have theorised.”

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