Nations versus Religions: Which Has a Stronger Effect on Societal Values?

By Minkov, Michael; Hofstede, Geert | Management International Review, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Nations versus Religions: Which Has a Stronger Effect on Societal Values?


Minkov, Michael, Hofstede, Geert, Management International Review


Abstract The World Values Survey allows a comparison of the relative contribution of nations versus global religions on the cultural values of nations and in-country religious groups. We analyzed the answers to 16 questions from 2005-2008 about personal values and values for children at the level of 121 in-country religious groups from 56 nations. We found that the national influence is much stronger than the influence of global religions. This results in nationally homogeneous and statistically distinguishable clusters of nominally different in-country religious groups. Global religions do not have a similar effect: their in-country variants do not group together to form homogeneous and statistically distinguishable religious clusters that cut across nations. Our study shows that, with respect to values, a shared national history is a potent cultural factor, whereas a globally shared religion is not. This is true even in recently formed nations such as those of sub-Saharan Africa.

Keywords National culture * Values * Religion

You, however, have no cause of appearing in public, except such as is serious.

Roman preacher Q. S. F. Tertullianus (AD 150-230) addressing Christian women, four centuries before the birth of Islam (De Cultu Feminarum, Book 2, Chapter 11/1, English translation by Sydney Thelwall).

1 Introduction

The view that different religious groups can create different cultures is probably very old. Yet it became especially prominent after Weber (1930) argued that Protestantism had generated a special emphasis on thrift and hard work as values and behaviors. This particular aspect of his theory has been empirically challenged or completely rejected by many authors (Becker and Woessmann 2007; Blum and Dudley 2001; Cantoni 2009; Delacroix and Nielsen 2001). Yet, the general thrust of Weber's philosophy is still maintained by influential authors. Huntington (1993), Inglehart and Baker (2000), and Inglehart (2005) believed that religious differences have had a powerful influence on human values. Welzel and Inglehart (2009) explicitly pointed out that Islam tends to depress people's emancipative values. Harrison (2010) stated that "Religion is not the only fount of cultural values, beliefs and attitudes but it is surely one of the most influential" (p. 26). Beliefs that different religions can account for different values are found also in prominent publications in the international management literature, for instance Ralston et al. (2008).

The empirical evidence for the role of religions as generators of different types of values, or other aspects of subjective culture, is inconclusive. For instance Brinkerhoff and McKie (1984) concluded that religious denomination accounts for differences in gender attitudes across a Canadian sample. Lehrer (2004) found an association between religious affiliation (the specific religious group to which the individual belongs) and economic and demographic outcomes. Parenti (1967) concluded that the cultural belief systems of the US religious groups that he studied--Catholics, Protestants and Jews--operated as independent variables within the social structure. Yet, comparisons of a few group means cannot prove associations between any variables. If one group is more hard-working than another, it may be a simple coincidence that the first group happens to consist of Protestants and the other one of Catholics, or that they have a different skin color, or any other characteristic that has nothing to do with industriousness. In fact, when very large groups of people are compared, a null hypothesis of no statistical difference "whatsoever" (StatSoft 1984-2004) is illogical; there will always be some difference. A useful question in this case is whether the difference between the populations is large enough to be interesting or important (Matsumoto et al. 2001) and what it actually stems from.

It is important to stress that even if a large and important cultural difference is found between two religious groups in a particular nation, it should not automatically be viewed as a religious difference. …

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