“Corona pandemic is obviously influencing religiosity”

Initial results of a survey by the Cluster of Excellence on corona and faith

© Carolin Hillenbrand

Initial results of a survey conducted by the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” at the University of Münster on the link between the corona pandemic and religiosity are now available. They show that the COVID 19 crisis is having an impact on people’s faith, explains political scientist Carolin Hillenbrand of the Cluster of Excellence. More than half of those surveyed say that their faith is providing them with comfort, hope and strength in the corona period. Predominant among this group are those who identify themselves as religious, pray more, and attend church services. The corona pandemic is strengthening the religiosity of believers in particular, with the faith of people who do not belong to any religion tending to weaken in contrast. The results of the first evaluations of the non-representative online survey are available here in German.

“The online study ‘Religion and social cohesion in the time of the corona pandemic’ will be evaluated in two steps”, explains Hillenbrand. “The results are based on the first survey period from 7 July to 18 October and can thus be located in the first corona wave. The online survey will now be continued in the second corona wave in order to identify possible differences and similarities between the first and the second wave”. 1,971 people participated within three months in the first survey period. Besides those who do not belong to any religion, these include mainly Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, and adherents to Free Churches. Political scientist Hillenbrand, who is collecting the data as part of her research work in the Cluster of Excellence graduate school, is part of an international research team investigating the influence of the corona pandemic on people’s social, political, and religious attitudes and behaviour. Hillenbrand’s doctoral project takes an empirical,cross-country perspective on the role of religion in social cohesion, and is being supervised by the sociologist of religion at the Cluster, Prof. Detlef Pollack.

“In times of crisis, ‘why?’ questions are particularly important”

“In the survey”, says Hillenbrand, “57% said that their faith is unchanged, meaning that people either continue not to believe, or believe just as much as before”. 32% said that their faith is now stronger, and almost 11%, weaker. “If we look at this change in faith by religious group, we see that faith has weakened rather than strengthened among those who do not belong to any religion. One possible explanation for this would be that these people find renewed confirmation in the pandemic that there can be no loving and kind God”, says Hillenbrand. “In contrast, the faith of all other religious groups has tended to increase rather than decrease. A deep, personal relationship of faith thus seems able to carry and support people, also and especially in times of crisis such as the corona pandemic - from the perspective of the sociology of religion, we can say that religion is fulfilling its genuine religious task of ‘dealing with contingency’”.

Carolin Hillenbrand
© Privat

In the survey, participants were also asked about how they personally are dealing with the pandemic, about their interpretations of the epidemic up to and including conspiracy theories, about changes in their lives as a result of the crisis, and about how satisfied they are with the political response to corona. The responses here have not yet been evaluated. “The corona crisis impinges upon a central religious problem, namely the question of how people deal with contingency, uncertainty, and unpredictable situations”, says Hillenbrand. “In times of crisis, ‘why?’ questions are particularly important. We want to find out what role people’s religiosity or spirituality plays in how they are dealing with the crisis”.

1,971 people from all over Germany took part in the first online survey, 1,132 women, 828 men, and 11 “diverse”. They are aged between 11 and 96, with most being middle-aged. “Further analysis of the survey is also designed to show how the pandemic is affecting dimensions that make up social cohesion”, says Hillenbrand. These include trust, sense of belonging, readiness to take responsibility, and engagement. In addition, the researchers would like to reach more members of other religious communities in Germany by the end of the year, especially from the Muslim and Jewish communities, which are still underrepresented. Those interested are invited to take part anonymously in the online survey at www.religion-und-politik.de/umfrage-religion-und-corona.

The survey was conducted in cooperation with an international research group under the leadership of the Antonianum University in Rome. Also involved from Germany is the “Forschungsinstitut Gesellschaftlicher Zusammenhalt” (FGZ) at the University of Leipzig. (exc/maz/vvm)