How would an anthropologist study this?

Forgive me if its been asked, but somehow I doubt it.

The northern nations, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, et al, are significantly less observant in religious practice than more southerly countries, such as Italy, Spain, Mexico and the USA. This seems to be the case as well with countries in Asia, though China has legal restrictions.

In fact, in many cases, actual belief in gods is lower as you go north. None of this is much in dispute: the CIA world factbook, wikipedia and national census’ report these facts well.

I know the question I ask is obvious: Why? How would you do a survey, census or research to find out why? Is it even possible?

I dunno, but I know I have trouble thinking rationally when I’m hot.

You want to claim this:

Hot weather causes religiosity.

Have you considered the possibility that this is true instead?:

High average wealth causes lack of religiosity.

So then you would have to figure out why this is true:

Cold weather causes high average wealth.

I doubt you can survey to directly ask why, you’d really need a few theories first and then use surveys to check.

It’s unlikely that latitude (or even heat) is the direct cause of religious observance. So you could look for other things that correlate (maybe population density?) and then find a southern non-religious country that fits that theory.

It could be just a product of the spread of religion, it got diluted and run out of steam the further north it got. You could investigate that but looking at the historical records I guess.

For what it’s worth Australia seems a lot less religious that Canada …

A lot of work has been done on this already… linking protestantism to wealth (Weber)…linking wealth to secularization (although I believe the results are inconclusive). It is more sociology, than anthropology and theoretically many would put a few steps inbetween the ‘north’ equals ‘less religious’.

I’m not that familiar with Australia. What’s lead you to this conclusion?

It’s a fair question, not cause and effect. The conclusions are not being assumed. You are forcing the conclusions with your reply. Of course you’re going to think about that , but any rational person will not make that leap. The OP is listing facts (or referring to them) and is asking what might be the moving force (cause) to make the effect. I don’t believe the OP or myself at least, thought that climate had anything to do with it. However, geography may play a part.
I do believe however that climate will have an effect on the “color” of the religion or mores of the society.

Perhaps this video would be of relevance. To quickly summarize: people nearer to the equator seem to have a slower pace of life than people nearer the poles.

Catholics don’t like the cold?

When measuring this trend, does religiosity correlate better with climate or poverty?

I think the latest studies show that secularism correlates with income equality in combination with reduced poverty.

An anthropologist would start by questioning whether the CIA factbook is documenting religious belief and behaviour, or merely collecting statistics on church attendance and named groups. You’d have to start by reading through the literature and collecting data on actual religious belief and behaviour to see if the apparent pattern is a real one. There are plenty of ways of being religious that don’t involve churchgoing. In Europe and North America, there’s a very small percentage in the Neopagan movement, for example, whose numbers are notoriously difficult to assess.

If I may be the first to Godwinize:

You know who else thought that people got smarter, more sensible, more industrious, of better character, etc. the further north they originated? Hitler, that’s who!

Seriously, there were Nazi scientists who tried to show that “sun-adapted” peoples from southern climes were inferior in character and intellectual development to Nordic peoples because of the climates they were exposed to. The Nazi psychologist Jaentsch tried to prove this with experiments on chickens. Northern chickens, he claimed, were more industrious in their pecking behavior than southern ones. Of course, the Nazis, unlike the consensus culture of much of this board, would probably not have recognized lack of religiosity as an index of superiority, but is this really a road we want to go down?

Umm, Irish Catholics in Newfoundland?

Yes. Anthropologists would determine if there really was a correlation worth studying before undertaking a study.


I’m not forcing the conclusions. The problem is that the OP is forcing the correlation. The OP is asking if A correlates with B. I’m saying that you can find some better correlations if you assume that A correlates with C and C correlates with B. The notion that the colder nations have higher wealth on average is not new. The notion that the nations with higher wealth tend to be more religious is also not new. I think that either of those notions will be easier to find some justification for than the idea that hotter nations are more religious. Also, please note that the OP presumably should be talking about colder nations rather than more northern ones.

Extrapolating then, New Zealanders should all be frothing religious zealots. :stuck_out_tongue: (Which we’re not… well, except perhaps about Rugby). Seriously though, we’re not quite as irreligious as a few places – such as most of Scandinavia – but pretty close).

The US is both hotter (Summer) and colder (Winter) on average than NZ… so how does that work?

Should we drop the US from consideration for these purposes? IIRC the US also doesn’t fit well with the (more affluent = less religious) trend either so it may well be a statistical outlier in other (possible) religious trends.

(2009 Gallup poll – which also indicates Australia as being in the “less religious” camp).

Addendum re. Australia: it looks as though Oz is quite a bit more religious than NZ. The wiki page on Irreligion uses data from the 2006 census in both countries and puts the percentage of Kiwis with no religion (34.7%) at nearly double the Aussie’s (18.7%).

Apart from anything else, the bits of the US are variously nearly in the Arctic Circle and near the tropics, and the US is significantly less homogenous than many other states, particularly Northern European ones. So it’s an outlier in many senses.

It would be awfully hard to undertake a study like this anyway. You’d have to correct for income, educational attainment and all sorts of other things that demonstrably impact religious attendance.

Well, you did say this:

That sounds like a conclusion to me, and I didn’t see anything in the OP where he suggested that.

Whatever the causes, neither climate nor latitude have anything to do with this phenomenon. I’m not even sure that wealth has much to do with it, at least not directly. There are too many exceptions: Renaissace Spain and Italy - while very wealthy - didn’t produce particularly many Atheists, while the Czech Republic of today - one of the poorest countries in the EU (ranking even below Greece, according to the IMF) - has the second highest percentage of Atheists in its population. It’s all just a coincidence.

To me, the real reason seems to be that Protestantism just happened to take hold in the north, probably because it was far away enough from Rome, or just because Luther happened to have been born in northern Germany. Protestantism having been established, it turned out that due to its nature (highly decentralised, a more positive attitude towards independend thinking, and with fewer means to suppress dissent), it presented a fertile ground for religious skepticism.
So much for western Europe.

For eastern Europe, the explanation seems more obvious: they had 70 years of Communism.