In new global dataset, witchcraft beliefs are associated with weak institutions, conformist cultures — ScienceDaily

A newly compiled dataset quantitatively captures beliefs in witchcraft in countries around the world, allowing investigation of key factors associated with these beliefs. Boris Gershman of the American University in Washington, DC, presents these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on November 23, 2022.

Many previous studies conducted around the world have documented people’s beliefs in witchcraft – the idea that certain individuals have supernatural abilities to inflict harm. Understanding people’s beliefs about witchcraft can be important for policy development and other community engagement efforts. However, due to a lack of data, worldwide statistical analyzes of witchcraft beliefs have been lacking.

To further the understanding of witchcraft beliefs, Gershman has compiled a new dataset that captures these beliefs among more than 140,000 people from 95 countries and territories. The data comes from face-to-face and telephone surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center and professional survey organizations between 2008 and 2017, which included questions about religious beliefs and belief in witchcraft.

According to the dataset, more than 40% of survey participants said they believe “some people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to someone.” . For example, 9% of participants in Sweden said they believed in witchcraft, compared to 90% in Tunisia.

Using this dataset, Gershman then conducted an investigation of various individual-level factors associated with beliefs in witchcraft. This analysis suggests that, although beliefs cross socio-demographic groups, people with higher levels of education and economic security are less likely to believe in witchcraft.

Gershman also combined this dataset with other country-level data, finding that beliefs in witchcraft differ between countries based on various cultural, institutional, psychological, and socioeconomic factors. For example, beliefs in witchcraft are linked to weak institutions, low levels of social trust and low innovation, as well as a conformist culture and higher levels of prejudice within the group – the tendency of people to favor others who are like them”

These findings, as well as future research using the new dataset, could be applied to help optimize policies and development projects by taking into account local beliefs about witchcraft.

The author adds: “The study documents that beliefs in witchcraft are still widespread around the world. Moreover, their prevalence is consistently linked to a number of cultural, institutional, psychological and socio-economic characteristics.”

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