Dynamics of Social Group Competition: Modeling the Decline of Religious Affiliation

Department of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA.
Physical Review Letters (Impact Factor: 7.51). 08/2011; 107(8):088701. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.107.088701
Source: PubMed


When social groups compete for members, the resulting dynamics may be understandable with mathematical models. We demonstrate that a simple ordinary differential equation (ODE) model is a good fit for religious shift by comparing it to a new international data set tracking religious nonaffiliation. We then generalize the model to include the possibility of nontrivial social interaction networks and examine the limiting case of a continuous system. Analytical and numerical predictions of this generalized system, which is robust to polarizing perturbations, match those of the original ODE model and justify its agreement with real-world data. The resulting predictions highlight possible causes of social shift and suggest future lines of research in both physics and sociology.

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    • "Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx envisioned the decline of organized religion and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. More recently the idea that the unaffiliated population will increase has been promoted using mathematical models of social group competition (Abrams, Yaple et al. 2011) and assumptions that growing economic development will lead to evolution away from religion (Barber 2012). But these predictions did not take demography into account − specifically, that patterns in global population growth favor those who have religious affiliation (Norris and Inglehart 2004; Kaufmann 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: People who are religiously unaffiliated (including self-identifying atheists and agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular”) made up 16.4% of the world's population in 2010. Unaffiliated populations have been growing in North America and Europe, leading some to expect that this group will grow as a share of the world’s population. However, such forecasts overlook the impact of demographic factors, such as fertility and the large, aging unaffiliated population in Asia.
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    • "subjects of sociophysics we find opinion dynamics [3], ideological struggle [4], the dynamics of party formation [5], and more recently the growth and decline of religious populations [6] [7] [8] [9] . A classical mathematical method of physics are differential equations or systems of them. "
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