Reincarnation Revisited: Question format and the distribution of belief in reincarnation in survey research

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Siegers, Pascal (2013)
  • Publisher: DEU
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.13094/SMIF-2013-00007
  • Subject: Sociology & anthropology | Social sciences, sociology, anthropology | Sozialwissenschaften, Soziologie | Soziologie, Anthropologie | Religionssoziologie | Erhebungstechniken und Analysetechniken der Sozialwissenschaften | Sociology of Religion | Methods and Techniques of Data Collection and Data Analysis, Statistical Methods, Computer Methods | statistical analysis | ISSP | survey research | data | EVS | religiousness | statistische Analyse | Religiosität | Umfrageforschung | Daten

Comparing frequency of belief in reincarnation from different international survey projects (RAMP, EVS, ISSP) reveals differences of about 15 to 20 percent depending on the specific question format. If single binary questions are used, then belief in reincarnation is more often reported than if a forced-choice question is used which offers respondents alternatives to belief in reincarnation (e.g. resurrection). One possible explanation for this result is that respondents confuse reincarnation and resurrection if a binary item is used. If this is true, then empirical studies on religious individualization would be flawed because they use belief in reincarnation as an indicator for holistic beliefs such as New Age spirituality, post-Christian spirituality and subjective life spirituality. Using a two stage question on beliefs about the afterlife that combines a binary rating procedure (1. stage) with a reduced forced-choice design (2. stage) allows analysis of whether respondents systematically confuse reincarnation and resurrection. Moreover, analysing associations with other variables on religious beliefs allows testing if consistent patterns of belief emerge. The data provide little evidence that respondents confuse resurrection and reincarnation. Rather, they reveal a high level of uncertainty about belief in the afterlife. To conclude, the paper suggests some recommendations on how belief in reincarnation should be used as an indicator for holistic beliefs.
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