Religion, modernity and blasphemy

In the first part of this paper I have reviewed the theoretical expositions in sociology about the relationship between modernity and religion. To reiterate the main argument: according to sociological theory, conditions of modernity lead to increasing secularisation and privatisation of religion. Consequently religion gradually loses its relevance and public influence in modern society. I have outlined the dynamics of this process in some detail in the introductory section. I have also argued that in his theoretical work Luhmann has offered a more nuanced and useful analysis of the role of religion in modern societies. If we follow the widely held view that under conditions of modernity religion loses its relevance and public influence then it can be argued that attitudes towards blasphemy in modern society are likely to be weak. This is a difficult issue to explore without an appropriately executed sociological study. In the absence of such a study, is there any evidence that can be used to examine this issue? I will attempt to do this by using the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is a composite index published in the UNDP Human Development Report annually. It measures the quality of physical, human and social capital in modern societies using a number of indicators. While this is not an ideal or flawless index, it is a useful measure that is now widely used in social analysis and to rank modern societies in terms of the quality of human life in them. The HDI values extracted from the 2002 Human Development Report for the countries included in this paper are included in Table 2 as well.

Table 11.2. Blasphemous Attitudes, Religiosity, and Human Development in Selected Countries

Country

Blasphemous

Attitudesi

Religiosityii

Modernity/ Human Development Indexiii

Turkey

Weak

57

.734

Kazakhstan

Weak

4

.765

Iran

Moderate

59

.719

Egypt

Strong

89

.648

Pakistan

Strong

96

.499

Indonesia

Strong

83

.682

Malaysia

Strong

88

.790

       

Australia

   

.939

Muslims

Moderate

87

-

Christians

Weak

41

-

i Blasphemous Attitude index was constructed from my unpublished survey data, see text for explanation for the methodology used.

ii Religiosity refers to the knowledge of core beliefs a Muslim is required to hold and in the case of Christians adherence to the core beliefs of Christianity. The numbers refer to percentage ‘orthodox’. The data for Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and Kazakhstan is from Hassan (2003), and for Turkey, Iran and Malaysia from unpublished survey data. Data for Australian Muslims and Christians is from Hassan (2002). For methodology used to obtain the values, see Hassan (2003).

iii Human Development Index is from the UNDP (2002).

With the exception of Malaysia the general trend appears to be that countries with lower HDI tend to have high levels of religiosity and strong blasphemous attitudes. This trend appears to support the argument that if we accept HDI as a proxy measure for modernity then the trend reported in Table 2 would support the sociological hypothesis about the relationship between modernity and religion.