01: Nations that are strongly religious are less innovative in science and technology, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Economists Roland Benabou, Davide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni studied the relationship between religious populations and the rate of patent applications filed by a country’s residents. In both international and cross-state U.S. data, the researchers find a “robust negative relationship between religiosity and patents per capita,” reports the Wall Street Journal (April 24). Even when making adjustments for differences in gross domestic product, rates of higher education, population and other variables, this relationship held up. While Benabou, Ticchi and Vindigni do not make the strong claim that religion is directly causing the lack of scientific innovation, they note that the pattern is there and it is not due to religious countries being poorer or lacking few resources. The economists also looked at the relation of science development to church-state models, finding that the Western European model, with a declining role for religion, encourages more unimpeded scientific progress than those societies where a political class is strongly tied to religious leaders.
02: The proportion of Swiss who describe themselves as religious has decreased considerably over the past decade. Yet, more people than ever are curious about relatively new sects such as Scientology, according to a new survey. The poll of 1,000 Swiss residents conducted by WIN/Gallup International, and cited on the website SwissInfo (April 17), finds that only 38 percent of Swiss residents call themselves religious. Of those surveyed, 46 percent describe themselves as not religious, with 12 percent claiming atheism. Three years ago, the number of Swiss believers was 50 percent and was as high as 71 percent ten years ago. Young people in the 18-24 age group were the least religious, 26 percent, while those in the over-65 age group were the most, 55 percent.
The poll was part of global survey of almost 64,000 people, with Western Europe retaining its standing as one of the least religious regions with an average of only 51 percent of people acknowledging religious belief. On the other hand, the proportion of Swiss enquiring about new “sects” such as Scientology in 2014 increased by 21 percent compared to the year before, according to Infosekta, a Zurich-based consumer group that provides information about sects. This is the third consecutive year that the group has received an increasing number of requests for information about sects. Children and young adults make up a quarter of all callers. According to Infosekta, the reason for the rising interest in sects is due to greater awareness among the population about their existence and activities due to media coverage.
03: The challenges for religious groups in France regarding their places of worship differ by denomination—many little-used Catholic churches need to be renovated and maintained at great expense, while more recent participants in the French religious scene (e.g. Orthodox or Muslims) do not have enough places of worship. A report submitted in March by a commission of the French Senate provides an overview of the current situation of places of worship belonging to different religious organizations in the country, but also to understand the challenges, especially for local authorities dealing with expectations of faith groups. The 1905 French law of separation between church and state did not abolish a number of practical interactions between them. Out of 100,000 places of worship in France, 90,000 are Roman Catholic. Due to the legacy of decisions made at the time of church-state separation, 90 percent of Catholic places of worship are the property of municipalities (87 cathedrals are the property of the French State) and are made perpetually, exclusively and freely available for the use of Catholic worship, while those built or acquired after the 1905 separation are in private hands. This is also the case for 12 percent of Protestant places of worship and 3 percent of Jewish ones, but none of the Muslim ones. For instance, the city of Paris owns 96 places of worship: 85 Catholic churches, nine Protestant churches and two Jewish synagogues.
This presents a number of challenges for maintaining those buildings—10 percent are in urgent need of renovation, while 30 percent will require such interventions in the near future. Due to the decrease in religious practice, three-quarters of Catholic parish churches remain closed most of the year, except for occasional baptisms, weddings or funerals., Many of those churches are part of the French architectural patrimony and thus need to be preserved—a third of protected historical buildings in France are religious ones, and their share in cultural tourism in France is 44 percent. Moreover, they are part of the landscape of towns and villages, even for those who do not use them for religious purposes. In the case of Paris, the maintenance for places of worship that are city property costs 70 million euros a year.
Regarding Protestant groups, between 1.6 -2 million faithful, there are 4,000 places of worship in France. Of those, 1,400 serve either Reformed or Lutheran congregations while 2,600 are used by various evangelical churches. The evangelical churches have multiplied in recent decades, as there were less than 800 places of worship in France the 1970s. The main challenge regarding Protestant congregations is the creation of new places of worship for evangelical groups—one new local evangelical congregation is born in France every 10 days. They encounter frequent administrative hurdles for getting building permits. They raise funds on a private basis, often with 15-20 year loans. Regarding Jewish congregations, the current period is primarily one of stabilization, with key concerns of preservation, the architectural patrimony (especially in those locations where congregations are aging) and making synagogues and other Jewish places secure from threats of anti-Semitic attacks.
Regarding other religious traditions, Orthodox churches—around 500,000 faithful, have between 150 and 200 churches that are mostly funded by the faithful, but that is not sufficient. There are probably 1 million Buddhists in France with 380 places of worship, and the need is for more. Muslims are more numerous—between 2.5 and 5 million depending upon statistical sources, possibly 2 million practicing Muslims. They have nearly 2,500 places of worship, but most are small ones and many more would be needed. A majority of local mosques seem to be self-funded by their faithful: overall, the contributions from foreign (Muslim) states remain limited. While the French State cannot support religious groups financially, with some exceptions in specific territories for historical reasons, there are ways for local collectivities to provide indirect help (e.g. guaranteed bank loans for the building of a mosque) or to prevent administrative hurdles.
(The full report (206 pages) in French can be downloaded from the Senate website in PDF format: http://www.senat.fr/rap/r14-345/r14-3451.pdf)