Religion and Global Cultural Variation
The world we live in is teeming with cultural diversity in beliefs, values, and preferences (cultural traits). While we know that geography, ecology, and national culture play important roles, there is conflicting views on whether religious traditions are also potential drivers of this diversity. How much of the global variability in cultural traits can be traced to religious traditions and to religious commitment? To answer this question, cultural distances between religious groups were measured and compared to distances between nation-states and to other demographics, drawing on a global sample from the World Values Survey (88 countries, N=243,118). We find that around the world, people who affiliate with the same religious tradition and have similar levels of religious commitment share all kinds of cultural traits. Despite their heterogeneity, the “Big 5” world religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism -- as well as secularism, share cultural traits that have persisted across geographical, linguistic, and political divides. I discuss some limitations on what we can infer from these findings, and conclude with thoughts on the place of religion and secularism in the cultural evolution of human societies.