Saturday, June 12, 2010

Anxiously Awaiting The Next Incarnation Of The European Values Study

According to the website for the European Values Study:
The fieldwork of the European Values Study 2008 is now completed. A first release of the data to the general public will be ready in June 2010. The fourth wave of the European Values Study covers all countries of Europe, from Iceland to Azerbaijan and from Portugal to Norway . . . .

The fieldwork of the European Values Study 2008 is now completed. A first release of the data to the general public will be ready in June 2010.
So far that's all they have to say about the results of the 2008 study.

Personally, I am especially interested in what the new data will have to say about belief in reincarnation. Previous European Values Studies (see graph above), going back to 1981, have shown that about one quarter of all Europeans consistently report that they believe in reincarnation. This prevalence of belief in reincarnation is comparable to that found in the US and also in sub-Saharan Africa.

When the latest findings finally start trickling out, I'll post more, including links to sources and analyses.

In the meantime, here is an excerpt from the 1999 article A very private belief: reincarnation in contemporary England, by Tony Walters and Helen Waterhouse:
A very private belief: reincarnation in contemporary England

The numbers of westerners interested in reincarnation greatly exceed the numbers of westerners attached to Eastern or New Age religions. The doctrine of reincarnation belongs to neither of western society's two major belief systems, namely Christianity and secularism, which makes it particularly interesting to sociologists: it is a deviant belief which people "ought" not to hold. This article explores what reincarnation means to some of those who believe in it, why they find it attractive, and how it relates to other aspects of their life - not least the religious organizations to which they belong but which do not teach it. In particular, the article asks whether the twentieth century privatization of belief makes it easier to hold beliefs not taught by one's church. After a brief review of the survey data on belief in reincarnation, we summarize the findings of an intensive interview study of a small number of English people who entertain the idea. We conclude that reincarnation is indeed for them a very private belief, detached from religious and other affiliations, from the New Age, from popular literature on the subject, and from everyday life.


Belief in reincarnation - returning to this world in a series of bodily lives appears to be on the increase in the West. A survey in 1947 was surprised to find 4 percent of a random sample of a London suburb spontaneously mentioning belief in reincarnation (Mass Observation 1947: 29-32); Geoffrey Gorer found 5 percent of the English he interviewed in the early 1950s saying they believed in reincarnation and only 2 percent a decade later (Gorer 1965: 167). More recent surveys - notably the European Values Surveys (EVSs) of 1981 and 1990, show the figures to have risen to around a fifth to a quarter in several European countries, a proportion that now appears to be rather stable, and paralleled in the USA (Gallup and Proctor 1982: 137-8). The 1990 EVS figure for Great Britain is 24 percent (Ashford and Timms 1992). Some recent surveys, however, have produced rather lower figures, 12 percent, for example, in one English study (Davies and Shaw: 1995: 92; Davies 1997).

Reincarnation (or re-birth) is a belief that is taught in several Eastern religions and is part of many tribal belief systems, but is not formally part of either Christianity or secularism. Given that the figures for belief in reincarnation in Europe and North America far exceed the number of Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists (in the UK these amount to no more than 2 percent of the total population), one might be tempted to suppose that reincarnation is an alternative to Christianity and secularism, or might be broadly categorized as part of the New Age, that is to say, held by those who have a sense of inner spirituality but who do not wish to confine this to Christianity.

The 1990 EVS data do not confirm this supposition, at least for the UK. They consistently show that belief in reincarnation is associated with conventional Christian beliefs. One smaller North American study found little belief in reincarnation, from 3-11 percent, in a representative sample of congregations belonging to six Protestant denominations (Donahue 1993), but so far this is the only study to contradict the statistical association between conventional Christian believing and belonging on the one hand, and belief in reincarnation on the other.

[the nice graph is taken from here]