Cultures that are not governed by religious beliefs and tolerant of minority groups generally have a higher level of wealth, education and democracy, a study shows.
Positive cultural changes with regard to acceptance and tolerance usually come to improve these three measures of welfare, not the other way around.
Computer scientists in the UK and the US have been studying survey data from half a million people in 109 countries since 1990.
The data showed that secularism and openness to minorities – respectively “secular rationality” and “cosmopolitanism” can predict GDP, enrollment in secondary education and even the introduction of democracy.
The data-driven analysis supports the idea that a ‘good’ society – which values diversity, tolerance and openness – can also be a ‘productive’ society
Although cosmopolitanism is the acceptance of marginal groups, “secular rationality” is defined as a healthy dose of secularism – the ability to exclude yourself from religion.
WHAT IS SECULARISM?
Secularism is the indifference to, or rejection, or exclusion of religion and religious considerations.
The three principles of secularism are defined by the National Secular Society:
1. Separation of religious institutions from state institutions and a public sphere where religion can participate but does not dominate.
2. Freedom to put one’s faith or belief into practice without harming others, or to change or not have it, according to one’s own conscience.
3. Equality so that our religious beliefs or lack thereof lack no benefit or disadvantage
For a nation to become prosperous, it must first and foremost separate from religion and be tolerant of minorities and individual rights, the study suggests.
“We have used meticulous statistical methods to learn cultural values from survey data and compared them to historical statistics,” says Dr. Daniel Lawson, statistician at the School of Mathematics at the University of Bristol.
“With access to huge digitized data sets, history becomes a science.
“Our data-driven analysis supports the idea that a” good “society – which values diversity, tolerance and openness – can also be a” productive “society, which is a reason to be hopeful about the future.”
The last 300 years have brought about prosperity in health, economic development, democracy and education.
The researchers, from the University of Bristol and the University of Tennessee, wanted to investigate the origin of this wave of prosperity – was religious tolerance a consequence of prosperity, or vice versa?
“Secular rationality,” meaning that having a healthy dose of secularism was a factor used as an indicator of tolerant cultures
“A relevant question is whether these distinguishing cultural values have arisen in response to the increasing prosperity in Western societies, or, conversely, whether cultural change preceded those developments,” they write. Royal Society Open Science.
Using data collected by the World and European Values Survey, the team discovered that both secular rationality and cosmopolitanism must be present to enable socio-economic development.
Promoting a country’s development must take into account existing cultural values, and the promotion of democracy will only succeed if it is combined with the promotion of tolerance for minority groups.
The first place to see a dramatic increase in wealth, health, education and democracy were mostly Western countries.
American students were cited as a social group with good values that can operate independently of religion and can bring prosperity and wealth
Regions with the highest secular rationality and cosmopolitanism are located in Western Europe, Australia and America.
For example, the team says American students differ psychologically from other, more traditional, societies in their values of justice, economic decision making, individualism, independence, and “moral reasoning.”
Cultural values are “the software of society” and they can be innovated in one place before they spread to another region that speak the same language, they assume.
Places with the greatest increase in wealth, education and democracy tended to have pre-existing secular and tolerant cultures, at least in the 21st century.
“This study examines the co-evolution of cultural values with health, wealth, education and democracy around the world,” said Damian Ruck of the University of Tennessee.
“It shows that promoting a culture of secularism, tolerance and openness, along with improved public health, can be the first step on the road to development.”