Washington, Oct. 19: Secularism, as Indians know it, may be reaching a cul de sac in many parts of the world, if a global survey on religion conducted by two American organisations is any guide.
The survey, which its promoters claim to be the first in the world of its kind and the first in a series, covered Hindus and Muslims in India and respondents in six other countries: Peru, Russia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US.
Sixty-one per cent of Hindu respondents and 56 per cent of Muslim respondents from India said more religion would help society.
The proportionate figures for Saudi Arabia were 92 per cent while 89 per cent of Muslims and 51 per cent of Jews in Israel shared that view.
Comparative figures for other countries were: 77 per cent of Christians and 39 per cent of Buddhists in South Korea, 84 per cent of Peruvian Catholics and 59 per cent of Russian Orthodox Christians. In the US, 79 per cent of Catholics and 76 per cent of Protestants shared that view.
Sixty-five per cent of Muslims and 55 per cent of Hindus in the Indian segment of the survey disagreed that religion was a source of trouble and unrest.
Three-quarter of these Muslims said the source of violence was politics and 65 per cent of Hindus agreed with that view.
John Zogby, president of Zogby International, leading pollsters, said the lesson to be drawn from the findings is that “religion should be respected instead of used for political purposes; that too often some political leaders exploit the symbols of religious groups in order to mobilise a constituency for their own purposes”.
The survey was conducted by Zogby International and the University of Rochester.
A very positive finding among the Indian respondents is the high level of tolerance. As many as 84 per cent of Indian Muslims said they believed in the equality of people of other religious faiths while this figure for Hindus was 79 per cent.
Seventy-one per cent of Saudis and 56 per cent of South Korean Christians took the opposite view. A majority of Hindus — 53 per cent — did not believe that their religion alone offered the path to salvation. This figure was 50 per cent for Indian Muslims.
On the issue of inter-faith marriage, the disapproval rate was very high both among Hindus — 61 per cent — and Muslims — 70 per cent.
Zogby said he did not see the findings as “in any way a mandate for extremism. Rather, what’s evident here is that people on the ground view religion as a positive thing. Hence, bringing religious values to government is...bringing something positive into the political world because they see it as a positive thing”.
An instructive finding is that for 82 per cent of Hindus and 81 per cent of Indian Muslims, the biggest source of religious teaching and awareness was their parents. Outside the family, for 47 per cent in both communities, the source was a schoolteacher.
Another surprising finding was that for 98 per cent Indian Muslims and 96 per cent of Hindus, being well educated was the most important goal in life, followed by learning a valuable skill for Hindus and achieving economic security for Muslims.
Spending time with family was the next goal for both communities.
Except in the US and Israel, where the poll was nation-wide, national capitals were chosen for responses in most countries, including India.
The interviews were conducted in person and over the phone from January to March. The margin of error for India was estimated at plus or minus four per cent.