Manchester researcher weighs impact of religious decline on morality

Ingrid Storm concluded a decline in religion does not equate to a decline in morals.
The University of Manchester's Ingrid Storm has analyzed survey data to conclude that a decline in religion does not equate to a decline in morals.

Storm, who published her research in the Politics and Religion journal, claims that involvement in organized religion makes the most difference in the most religious countries. Otherwise, religion matters less for moral values now than it did in the 1980s.

“Religion has been in sharp decline in many European countries. Each new generation is less religious than the one before, so I was interested to find out if there is any reason to expect moral decline,” she said.

From 1981 to 2008, respondents to questionnaires in 48 European countries were asked how often they would justify various contentious behaviors – classified into two moral dimensions.

One dealt with tradition, including abortion and homosexuality. The other dealt with illegal activities such as stealing.

“More Europeans are now willing to justify behaviors that go against tradition, but attitudes have not changed when it comes to breaking the law or harming others,” Storm said.

She noted that as religion declined throughout Europe, acceptance of personal autonomy on issues concerning sexuality and family increased.

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