This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Politics of Changing Religious Demographics

Last month the Pew Research Center put out new population projections for the world based on estimates of the population by religious preference.  I commented on this at the time and promised to return with more details. Today, Michael Lipka and Conrad Hackett at Pew did that for me, by commenting on the differential rates of growth between now and the middle of this century. The Muslim population of the world is projected to grow by 73%, more than twice that of Christians or Hindus. By contrast, there are projected to be fewer Buddhists at mid-century than at present. The reason for the difference is two-fold: (1) fertility is higher among Muslims than non-Muslims in all regions of the world in which there are sizable fractions of Muslims (see graph below), and (2) because of the high fertility (in combination with steadily declining death rates, as I commented on yesterday), the Muslim populations are younger and thus have a higher fraction of people in the reproductive ages, thus accelerating the effect of above-average fertility.

Differential rates of growth wouldn't make a difference if people were simply tolerant of people of different religions. But religious tolerance is not one of the "core beliefs" of most human beings. This is especially true among the two largest religious groups--Christians and Muslims--which are large precisely because they are proselytizing religions. Both groups believe not only that they are right, but that it is their duty to convert everyone else to that point of view. That perspective inherently leads to intolerance for different points of view. And that's where politics comes into play. It is not the religious belief, per se, that matters. Rather, it is the interpretation that people put on their religion, including their tolerance for different points of view, that makes religion a potentially volatile element in society and between societies. A person making that point very well, by the way, is Reza Aslan, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, whom my wife and I were watching tonight as we caught up with episodes of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart that we had recorded while we were traveling.

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