How do you measure political secularism at the individual level?

For better (seriously?) or worse (you betcha!), politics and religion are intimately intertwined. While everyone and their grandfather (and especially their grandfather) gets worked up about immigration from Muslim-majority countries, the more relevant development in much of Europe is secularisation.

Secularisation as a process has many facets (e.g. a decline of religious membership, practice, and beliefs). From a political and political science POV, the rise of political secularism is a particularly interesting aspect of it.

As an ideology, political secularism is well researched. But while there is a plethora of instruments for measuring religiousness, there is no instrument for measuring individual politically secular attitudes. These are not two sides of the same coin. Political secularism is not merely the absence of religiousness, but rather a world view which holds that religious beliefs should play no role in politics.

  • Arzheimer, Kai. “A short scale for measuring political secularism.” Politics and Religion online first (2022). doi:10.1017/S1755048322000104
    [BibTeX] [Abstract] [Download PDF] [HTML] [DATA]

    As religiousness is declining across democracies, scientific interest in secular orientations and their political implications is growing. One specific and particularly important aspect of secular attitudes is political secularism. Political secularism is not merely the absence of religiousness, but rather a world view which holds that religious beliefs should play no role in politics. While there are hundreds of survey instruments that measure the strength and content of religiousness, there is no comparable measure that taps into political secularism. In this research note, I briefly review the concept of political secularism and present a cluster of items which target it. Utilising data from four large population representative samples taken in the eastern and western states of Germany, I use Confirmatory Factor Analysis to show that these items form a short but internally consistent scale. This scale also displays convergent and discriminant validity. It may be readily used in future surveys.

    @Article{arzheimer-2022,
    author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
    title = {A short scale for measuring political secularism},
    journal = {Politics and Religion},
    year = 2022,
    volume = {online first},
    abstract = {As religiousness is declining across democracies, scientific
    interest in secular orientations and their political implications
    is growing. One specific and particularly important aspect of
    secular attitudes is political secularism. Political secularism is
    not merely the absence of religiousness, but rather a world view
    which holds that religious beliefs should play no role in politics.
    While there are hundreds of survey instruments that measure the
    strength and content of religiousness, there is no comparable
    measure that taps into political secularism. In this research note,
    I briefly review the concept of political secularism and present a
    cluster of items which target it. Utilising data from four large
    population representative samples taken in the eastern and western
    states of Germany, I use Confirmatory Factor Analysis to show that
    these items form a short but internally consistent scale. This
    scale also displays convergent and discriminant validity. It may be
    readily used in future surveys.},
    dateadded = {22-12-2021},
    doi = {10.1017/S1755048322000104},
    url = {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/secularism-measurement.pdf},
    data = {https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/XEKNYW},
    html = {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/scale-political-secularism},
    }

In a new publication (of which I am unduly proud), I present a short battery of items that tap into politically secular attitudes. Making use of data from four large representative surveys, I use Confirmatory Factor Analysis to show that these items form an internally consistent scale. I also demonstrate convergent and discriminant validity of this scale. To use the technical term, it’s a neat, short instrument that may be readily used in future surveys.

How do you measure political secularism at the individual level? 1

The article came out today in Politics & Religion (after a wait of almost Catholic proportions). It is published as Open Access under a Creative Commons licence. Replication data are also freely available, and if that is not enough, there is a lengthy appendix with even more tables. And here is my celebratory twitter thread 👇.

Secularism and genetic testing in Germany – new research video

Just for the fun of it, I have turned my recent article on Germans’ support for pre-implantation genetic diagnostics (PGD) into a short video. If you want to know why Germans would rather have laws along the lines of Belgium or the UK, and why they don’t get them, but do not want to read the full 8,000 piece, look no further – just click on the video below.

Secular citizens, pious MPs: Attitudes about genetic testing are more permissive than German laws

German men like stem-cell research, gene-editing. Abortion? Not so much


Men are more positive about (some) reproductive science and technology than women

Here is a by-catch finding from my recent article on the micro-foundations of the two-worlds theory of moral policy (full article, ungated). In the article, I look at the effect of a) party identification, b) religiosity, and c) political secularism (a desire for the separation of religion from politics) on the preferred regulation of various moralized policies in Germany. I control for age, education, region (east vs west), and gender.

In the article, I don’t talk much about the gender effects, because a) there was a strict word limit and b) they are somewhat tangential to the article’s main argument. But I find them intriguing. Here is the main table from the article. Entries are logit coefficients (I know). What do all those numbers mean?

Controlling for everything else (including the slightly gendered differences in religiosity and secularism), male respondents are just a tad less likely than females to support women’s access to legal abortions, although the difference is nowhere near statistically significant. Conversely, men are slightly more supportive of research on human embryos for medical purposes, but again, the difference is not significant.

German men like stem-cell research, gene-editing. Abortion? Not so much 2
boys & their toys

However, once we turn to high-tech interventions – extracting stem cells from early embryos and gene editing – men are significantly more supportive than women. The effect is small compared to everything else that is going on in the model, but it is there even after controlling for religion, secularism, education et al.. If that does not make you think about gendered view on reproductive rights and control over female bodies, I don’t know what will.

Do you find this kind of research interesting?There is more where that came from.

Bonus track: show us the items

The article in all its glory is open access, so simply click to have a look at the whole thing. I think it’s fascinating stuff, but then again, I’m a nerd. The operationalisations are buried in an appendix, so I’m reproducing them here for easy reference.

AbortionIf a woman wants to have an abortion, this should be legal, no matter what her reasons are: no (0); yes (1)
EmbryosResearch on human embryos should be banned, even if this means that patients will not benefit from new treatments: disagree strongly, disagree somewhat (1); neither/nor, agree somewhat, fully agree (0)
Stem cellsIn stem cell research, scientists extract cells from a human embryo less than two weeks after fertilization. These cells are not implanted in a woman’s uterus but grown in the lab to treat patients with genetic disorders. Do you fully approve of this, requiring no specific regulation, approve if this is strictly regulated (1); approve only if there are exceptional circumstances, approve under no circumstances (0)
Gene therapyScientists are working on gene therapies: treatments that work by modifying the human genome. Do you fully approve of this, requiring no specific regulation, approve if this is strictly regulated (1); approve only if there are exceptional circumstances, approve under no circumstances (0)

MPs under investigation, dying in Germany, quanteda goes 2.0, and academic chapters: 4 links I liked

MPs under investigation, dying in Germany, quanteda goes 2.0, and academic chapters: 4 links I liked 3

Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution (i.e. the spooks) begins to build dossiers on 3 sitting MPs for the AfD. All of them are prominent members of the most radical faction within the party (in German)

In a landmark ruling, Germany’s highest court declares ban on assisted suicide unconstitutional. Judges say right to end one’s life is fundamental, so assistance can’t be illegal. Germany’s top court paves the way for assisted suicide. Neatly dovetails with my research on bioethical attitudes and legislative behaviour in Germany.

This looks great: version 2.0 of quanteda is ready.

Excellent advice: using social media and open access can radically improve the academic visibility of chapters in edited books.

Does deliberation reduce the gap between citizens’ and legislators’ ethical preferences? (Or: Mr A goes to Oxford)

Does deliberation reduce the gap between citizens' and legislators' ethical preferences? (Or: Mr A goes to Oxford) 4

I’m enormously flattered that the good people over at Nuffield College have invited me to their Political Science Seminar Series. I’m talking about a current project of mine that looks into the extent of the gap between citizens’ and legislators’ preferences on bioethical issues in general and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) in particular. Here is the abstract of my talk:

Given the country’s lack of a strong Catholic culture, extraordinarily high levels of medical expenditure, and the dominance of private-sector actors in the health market, the regulation of bioethical issues in Germany is surprisingly restrictive. Recent legislation on Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a case in point: Only under considerable external pressure and with a bare cross-partisan parliamentary majority did Germany move from a complete ban to a new set of rules that are still much more restrictive than those in Belgium or the UK.

An analysis of legislators’ preferences (Arzheimer 2015) suggests that comparatively high levels of religiosity as well as the existence of a ‘blue-green’ issue coalition is responsible for this restraint. Citizens, on the other hand, seemed to show higher levels of support for the new regime and perhaps even support for further liberalisation. Although PGD is currently a niche issue, the existence of such a representational gap demands scholarly and political attention, because the ethical issues associated with Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and other advanced medical techniques will become more and more salient in Western societies in the coming years.

In my talk, I will present first findings from a large-scale survey experiments that looks into the preferences of the general public on PGD and a number of similar issues. More specifically, I investigate four inter-related questions:

1) Is there indeed a sizeable gap between MPs’ and citizens’ preferences on PGD?

2) Would citizens support a further liberalisation of the PGD regime?

3) Are citizens’ preferences shaped by the same determinants as those of their MPs?

4) Can the gap between citizens and MPs be narrowed by making citizens reflect on arguments from a parliamentary debate?

 

Slides to follow at some point are here.

Photo by janetmck Does deliberation reduce the gap between citizens' and legislators' ethical preferences? (Or: Mr A goes to Oxford) 5

Why is Germany’s bioethics legislation so restrictive?

bio

Germany’s restrictive bioethics legislation in general, and its very tight rules on embryology and fertilisation in particular, present a puzzle for political science. Early on, the country has enacted liberal rules in other moral policy domains, most notably the abortion law of 1975 (Richardt, 2003: 113). The full range of prenatal diagnosis is available to German women, and the 1995 amendment has de facto legalised late abortions of otherwise viable babies with genetic or other defects right up to the moment of birth (Hashiloni-Dolev, 2007: 85) Yet, paradoxically, Germany’s 1990 Embryo Protection Act (EPA, 1990) gives absolute protection to fertilised eggs (zygotes)1 before implantation in the womb and so remains “one of the strictest laws on human embryology and fertilization in Europe” (Richardt, 2003: 112).

As usual, Germany is a strange place. A partial explanation is in my recent article (open access): Strange bedfellows: the Bundestag’s free vote on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) reveals how Germany’s restrictive bioethics legislation is shaped by a Christian Democratic/New Left issue-coalition | Research & Politics