In new global data set, witchcraft beliefs correlate with weak institutions and conformist cultures – ScienceDaily


A newly compiled data set that quantitatively captures witchcraft beliefs in countries around the world, enabling the investigation of key factors associated with such beliefs. Boris Gershman of American University in Washington, D.C. presents these findings in the journal Open Access Plus one On November 23, 2022.

Numerous previous studies conducted around the world have documented people’s beliefs in witchcraft – the idea that certain individuals have supernatural abilities to cause harm. Understanding people’s beliefs about magic can be important for policy-making and other community engagement efforts. However, due to a lack of data, global statistical analyzes of witchcraft beliefs were unavailable.

To deepen understanding of witchcraft beliefs, Gershman compiled a new dataset that captures such 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 percent of the respondents said they believed that “some people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone.” Beliefs in witchcraft appear to exist all over the world but vary greatly between countries and within regions of the world. For example, 9 percent of respondents in Sweden reported believing in magic, compared to 90 percent in Tunisia.

Using this dataset, Gershman then investigated various factors at an individual level associated with witchcraft beliefs. This analysis indicates that although beliefs cut across sociodemographic 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, and found that witchcraft beliefs differ between countries according to various cultural, institutional, psychological, and socioeconomic factors. For example, witchcraft beliefs are associated with poor institutions, lower levels of social trust, lower innovation, as well as conformist culture and higher levels of intra-group bias — the tendency for people to prefer others who are similar to themselves.

These findings, along with future research using the new dataset, can be applied to help improve policies and development projects by taking into account local witchcraft beliefs.

The author adds, “The study documents that witchcraft beliefs remain pervasive throughout the world. Moreover, their prevalence is systemically linked to a number of cultural, institutional, psychological, and socioeconomic characteristics.”

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