More people may believe in an afterlife than believe in God, according to a nation-wide survey of Britons born in 1970.
Almost half – 49 per cent – of those surveyed earlier this year by the Institute of Education, University of London believe that there is ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ life after death. Only 31 per cent have said that they believe in God, either without doubts (13 per cent) or with some doubts (18 per cent).
Researchers at the IOE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies are canvassing more than 9,000 members of the 1970 British Cohort Study. The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is following a group of people born in England, Scotland and Wales in spring 1970. It collects detailed information on many aspects of people’s lives including health, wellbeing, and financial circumstances. The latest survey, at age 42, is being carried out between May and December.
While members of the 1970 cohort have been asked about religion at earlier points in their lives, the current survey is the first to make the important distinction between religious upbringing, affiliation, practice and belief.
This is a great way to study changing beliefs. This same group were followed over their lifetime. Very interesting. So while this study shows that many in this population are not religious or do not regularly participate in religious activities, they still hold some (presumably unreligious) beliefs in an afterlife.
Since the religion is a huge source of supernatural beliefs in life after death, where might they be getting these ideas from?
The researcher notes, “it is argued, exposure to ideas but not to the arguments for and against them might lead to unconventional beliefs.” In other words, exposure through popular media.We are deluged with popular culture products that encourage belief or at least exposure to ghosts and hauntings, spirit communication and reincarnation/past lives. “Previous research has found that among young adults in Britain, belief in life after death is more than twice as prevalent as belief in God. At the same time, an appreciable number of old people believe the opposite.”
It’s not clear that this is actually the case but it does make sense. As is religion, film, literature and other pop culture items are part of our shaping experience. If people do not subscribe to a religion because they were not brought up that way, they may find spiritual comfort in other secular but still supernatural beliefs that provide a similar need.