Global study shows that six in ten Britons – above the global average – believe religion does more harm than good

People across 23 countries are divided on religion’s impact on the world, but most say they are tolerant of people with different beliefs to them. Six in ten Britons – above the global average – believe religion does more harm than good, and only one in four say religion defines them as a person. 

Global study shows that six in ten Britons – above the global average – believe religion does more harm than good

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
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Half (49%) in a new global study agree that religion does more harm than good in the world, and 51% disagree, according to new data from Ipsos Global @dvisor survey.

The survey, conducted among online adults aged under 65 in 23 countries world-wide, finds people spilt on their views about religion’s impact on the world. Countries which are most likely to believe that religion does more harm than good tend to be in Western Europe – and also India and Australia.

Belgians are most likely to think that religion has done more harm than good - two in three (68%) agree. This is followed by Germany, Spain and Australia (each with 63%). Japan is least likely to think that religion has done more harm than good – one in four (26%) agree, followed by Russia and South Korea (both with 36%).

People are split down the middle when it comes to religion’s importance to their country’s moral life. Half (50% on average across the 23 countries) agree that religious practices are an important factor in the moral life of their country’s citizens (50% also disagree). India and South Africa are most likely to agree that religion is important to moral life (78% and 76% respectively). Japan (15%) and Sweden (31%) are the least likely to agree.

Despite a global split on the role of religion, the majority of people are in agreement when it comes to religious tolerance. Three-quarters (74%) say they are “completely comfortable” being around people who have different religious beliefs than their own. South Africa (90%), Serbia (89%) and the United States (88%) are the countries with the highest proportions saying they are comfortable being around people with different religions. The proportions of people in Japan (58%), Belgium (62%) and France (63%) are lower – although a clear majority still say they are comfortable.

Only one in six (16%) worldwide say that they lose respect for people when they find out that they are not religious. This is highest in India with 46% saying they would lose respect for someone who is not religious, followed by Turkey (24%). The countries least likely to say they would lose respect are Hungary (6%) and Sweden (7%).

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Indians and South Africans are most likely to agree with the statement “My religion defines me as a person” (70% and 66% respectively).
  • People in Japan are least likely to believe that religion does more harm than good and they are also least likely to agree with the statement “My religion defines me as a person” (14%). Sweden (17%), Great Britain (23%) and France (23%) are also less likely to agree with the statement.
  • Only one third (32%) of people surveyed think that religious people make “better” citizens. Indians are more likely to agree (62%), followed by people in South Africa and Brazil (both 54%). People in Japan (11%), Sweden (13%) and France (16%) are the least likely to agree with this.

Commenting on the findings, Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Head of Cohesion & Security Research at Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute said:

“The findings show that people globally are split down the middle on whether religion plays a positive or negative role in society. And while a significant minority say religion plays an important part in defining who they are, the findings indicate that there is a great deal of tolerance world-wide for those without religious beliefs. Similarly, people are at ease with religious plurality -globally, a large majority say they are totally comfortable being around people with different religious beliefs to them.

British attitudes are similar to other Western European countries – Britons are more likely than average to think that religion does more harm than good. Yet, they are more likely than average to say they are comfortable being around people with different religious beliefs. Only one in four say that religion defines them, which is below the global average. This is in line with other recent research that points to the decline of religion in British life as an increasing proportion of public say they have no religious affiliation.”

Technical notes:

  • In total 17,401 interviews were conducted between 24 June and 8 July 2017 among adults aged 18-64 in the US and Canada, and adults aged 16-64 in all other countries.
  • The survey was conducted in 23 countries around the world via the Ipsos Online Panel system. The countries reporting herein are across Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United States, Serbia and Peru.
  • Between 500 and 1000+ individuals participated on a country by country basis via the Ipsos Online Panel. The sample was 1000+ in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United Stated of America. In all other countries the sample was 500+. The precision of Ipsos online polls is calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points and of 500 accurate to +/- 5.0 percentage points. For more information on Ipsos’ use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website.
  • In countries where internet penetration is approximately 60% or higher, the data output generally reflects the overall population. Of the 25 countries surveyed online, 17 yield results that are balanced to reflect the general population: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain and the United States. The 5 remaining countries surveyed – Brazil (58%), India (19%), Mexico (44%), South Africa (49%) and Turkey (51%) - have lower levels of internet connectivity and reflect online populations that tend to be more urban and have higher education/income than the general population.
  • Where results do not sum to 100, this may be due to computer rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don't knows or not stated responses.
  • Data is weighted to match the profile of the population.

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Ipsos Public Affairs, UK

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