Massive global study shows that belief in witchcraft is more widespread than you might think : ScienceAlert

Belief in witchcraft is widespread around the world, according to a new global study involving more than 140,000 people, but it is highly variable from place to place.

According to the results, around one billion people in 95 countries believe in witchcraftand the study notes that it is “certainly an undercount”, given the sensitivity of discussing witchcraft for some respondents.

While at least some people believe in some version of witchcraft almost everywhere (about 40 percent of survey respondents said they did), the local prevalence of those beliefs appears to vary widely.

In Sweden, for example, only 9 percent of participants reported believing in witchcraft, according to the study, compared to 90 percent in Tunisia.

Although witchcraft beliefs are more common in some countries than others, they still “cut across sociodemographic groups” in each country, write study author and economist Boris Gershman of American University.

Map showing the level of believers in witchcraft.
A map showing the country-level prevalence of witchcraft beliefs around the world. (gershman, plus one2022)

Previous research has examined witchcraft beliefs in various parts of the world, but paucity of data has prevented researchers from conducting global analyzes of witchcraft beliefs.

Gershman created a new data set from telephone and in-person surveys conducted between 2008 and 2017 by the Pew Research Center and other professional survey groups.

The surveys included questions about the broader respondents religious beliefs and belief in witchcraft.

Gershman notes that pollsters asked about magic and witchcraft in many different ways, but at least one relevant question appeared in each poll.

All of the polls asked respondents if they believed in the “evil eye” or the idea that “certain people can cast curses or spells that make bad things happen to someone,” Gershman. write in the new studio.

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The last part of the question captures the definition of witchcraft that Gershman is looking for and, thanks to its prevalence in these surveys, “provides a unique way of identifying believers in witchcraft across the entire combined survey sample.” he writes.

Gershman found that 40 percent of respondents worldwide said they believed this description of witchcraft.

Applied to the total population of the countries represented, that would translate to about a billion people, he writes.

This new data set also allows Gershman to look at links between belief in witchcraft and a variety of factors at the individual and national levels.

On an individual level, people with more education and financial security were less likely to believe in witchcraft, the study found.

Witchcraft beliefs were also positively correlated with religiousness and belief in a deity, but affiliation with Christianity or Islam did not make a significant difference.

Nationally, witchcraft beliefs are associated with weak institutions, low levels of social trust and little innovation, Gershman reports, as well as a conformist culture and higher levels of in-group bias.

“The study documents that beliefs about witchcraft are still widespread around the world,” he said. He says.

“Furthermore, its prevalence is consistently related to a number of cultural, institutional, psychological, and socioeconomic characteristics.”

Gershman acknowledges that more research is still needed to gain a truly global perspective on witchcraft beliefs. Despite its broad scope, the new study has some limitations, including a lack of data from China and India, the two most populous countries on the planet.

There are practical applications to studying witchcraft beliefs in such detail, Gershman adds. On the one hand, these beliefs still lead to conflict in some placesand a better understanding of those beliefs, and their social context, can help protect women accused of witchcraft.

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Understanding beliefs about witchcraft can also be critical for governments, researchers, or aid groups trying to help or work with local populations.

Gershman quotes in his study the late anthropologist Monica Hunter Wilson, who eloquently explained the need for research like this:

“I view witch beliefs as the standardized nightmare of a group,” Wilson said, “and I believe that the comparative analysis of such nightmares is not simply an antiquarian exercise, but one of the keys to understanding society.”

The study was published in plus one.