Attitudes and beliefs: Data release of the ISSP module ‘Religion’

Article by Evi Scholz (GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences)

In December 2020, the ISSP released its data of the module 2018 ‘Religion’. Developed in 1991, it has been replicated since then in 1998, 2008, and 2018. Thus, the ISSP ‘Religion‘ data allow for both, cross-time analysis covering more than a quarter of a century, and for cross-national analysis of ISSP member countries from all over the globe. Twelve countries of the ISSP offer a continuous time series from 1991 to 2018: With Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Russia, Slovenia, and the United States, there is an impressive variety of cultures for comparative research. Further nine ISSP countries offer data from 1998 to 2018 and 29 countries from the last ten years from 2008 to 2018. The recently published 2018 ISSP ‘Religion‘ module currently contains data from 33 countries, two extra datasets for Tunisia and Venezuela are separately offered. Three further national data sets are expected (Australia, Estonia and India) where the module was fielded but data could not have been delivered yet due to delays resulting from covid-19 restrictions. A great benefit is also that 14 additional non-ISSP countries from Africa and South East Asia fielded the ISSP 2018 survey funded by the Templeton Religion Trust. Importantly, they provide insights into religious beliefs and attitudes in countries that do not often participate in surveys, such as Malawi or Mongolia. In 2008 already, there were extra data by non-ISSP countries (Indonesia, Kenya, and Sri Lanka) that now make cross-time analysis possible.

ISSP modules balance old and new questions out in order to continue important time-series but also to introduce new topics and items. All questions are reviewed and discussed regularly between each wave.

‘Religion IV’ asked about attitudes towards topics often discussed controversially in society and in religious groups themselves, as for example abortion, homosexuality, or gender roles. Other topics focused on the general beliefs of the respondents, such as their belief in god, the afterlife or the purpose of life. Questions on the frequency of church visits, prayers or the existence of religious objects in one’s home deepen the understanding of individual religiosity. Further topics are attitudes towards other religions, to religious extremists, or whether the state should interfere in religion. Additional questions focused on satisfaction with family life and happiness expected to work as dependent variables in the analysis. Optionally, questions on superstition or threatening religions are added to the ISSP 2018 question program.

For the scientific community, the well documented data are accessible free of charge via the GESIS Data Catalogue (DBK):