American Fundamentalism

There are studies, often, asking people whether religious beliefs are “very important” to them, how often they attend religious services, etc. There are also interesting studies relating intensity of religious belief (by such measures) with economic development. It turns out that there is a very close correlation: the more developed the society, the lower the intensity of religious belief. The United States, alone in the studies I have seen, is completely off the chart, with far higher religious commitment than predicted by level of development. Canada is somewhat off the chart in the same direction. You can find some statistics and discussion in an important study by Walter Dean Burnham, a very well-known and respected political scientists, in Ferguson and Rogers, eds., Hidden Election.

As for “fundamentalism,” if we are using the term in a narrow technical sense, then I suppose one could say that the US is perhaps the only fundamentalist country, since the concept was invented here, by American Protestants, about a century ago, to distinguish themselves from “liberal Protestants.” All other uses are metaphoric, analogic, and highly subjective. That’s true in the press, journals of opinion, and most of scholarship. It is often used to refer to extreme religious belief, sometimes to militant religious belief. In any event, there cannot be research into the question…

There could be research into specific beliefs: belief in creationism (in the US, about almost 50% — about a quarter believe in evolution, and most of the rest are not sure or lean towards creationism), belief in the devil (in the US, 70%), etc. I don’t know of comparative studies on this (which would require translation into other belief systems), but it’s generally assumed that one would have to go very far from the industrial societies to find comparable results.

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