Witchcraft beliefs are widespread across the world, a new study has found. The findings have enabled investigation of key factors associated with such beliefs. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE on November 23, 2022. People’s beliefs in witchcraft have been documented in numerous studies. Witchcraft refers to the idea that certain individuals have supernatural abilities to inflict harm.
Why is it important to understand witchcraft beliefs?
It is important to understand people’s witchcraft beliefs because these can affect policy making and other community engagement efforts. However, statistical analyses of witchcraft beliefs on a global scale have been lacking due to sparse data.
Boris Gershman, a researcher from American University in Washington who conducted the study, compiled a new dataset to deepen understanding of witchcraft beliefs. The dataset captured such beliefs among more than 1,40,000 people from 95 countries and territories. The Pew Research Center and professional survey organisations conduct face-to-face and telephone surveys. Based on data from such surveys conducted between 2008 and 2017, Gershman conducted the new study. The surveys included questions about religious beliefs and witchcraft beliefs.
Witchcraft beliefs vary substantially across countries
Over 40 per cent of survey participants said they believe that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone, according to the dataset. While witchcraft beliefs appear to exist around the world, they vary substantially between countries and within world regions. According to a statement released by the Public Library of Medicine, nine per cent of participants in Sweden reported belief in witchcraft, compared to 90 per cent in Tunisia.
Who are less likely to believe in witchcraft?
Gershman then used the data to conduct an investigation of various individual-level factors associated with witchcraft beliefs. People with higher levels of education and economic security are less likely to believe in witchcraft, the analysis suggests.
After combining the dataset with other country-level data, Gershman found that witchcraft beliefs differ between countries according to various institutional, socio-economic, cultural and psychological factors.
Who are more likely to believe in witchcraft?
The study found that witchcraft beliefs are linked to weak institutions, low levels of social trust, low innovation, conformist (a person who behaves in accordance with prevalent standards or customs) culture and higher levels of in-group bias. This refers to the tendency for people to favour others who are similar to them.
Countries can use the findings of the new study to optimise policies and development projects by accounting for witchcraft beliefs.