it is well said, in every sense, that a man’s religion is the chief fact with regard to him.
Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero-Worship
The exploration of the dynamics of religious change in Chapter 5 emphasised a range of important factors that affect diffusion, adherence and persistence. Underlying many of those factors and themes is the broader issue of how people affect religion, because religion in itself can only be transferred and have an impact via people who believe in it. Religion is not an entity in its own right; it has importance only in so far as it involves people. Yet the relationship between people and religion is reciprocal, with each one both influencing and being influenced by the other. This reciprocity is illustrated, for example, in the emergence of new religious movements (see Chapter 2, pp. 44-8) and the diffusion of existing ones (see Chapter 4, pp. 99-101).
In this chapter we focus on some important dimensions of the impact of religion on people. The three focal points—demography, development and politics—are chosen to illustrate ways in which religious factors can exert powerful influences on how people behave, and in turn give rise to some quite pronounced geographical patterns and features. There are many other ways in which religion influences behaviour, and such dynamics are also evident in terms of landscapes (Chapter 7) and pilgrimage (Chapter 8).
Religious beliefs can be a powerful determinant of personal decisions which most individuals and families face, including family size and mobility. In reality, however, the relationship is two-way because demographic factors also influence the diffusion, stability and persistence of religious groups.
It is often difficult to isolate the impact of religion as an influence on demography from the broad matrix of socio-cultural factors in which it is embedded.