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Journal articles (peer reviewed)

Pless, A., Tromp, P., Houtman, D. (2023). Toward Electoral (Ir)relevance of Moral Traditionalism? Religious Decline and Voting in Western Europe (1981-2017). Politics and Religion, 16(2), 324345. 

This article tests two contrasting hypotheses about changes in the electoral relevance of moral traditionalism-progressiveness, which pertains to attitudes toward matters of procreation, sexuality, and family and gender roles. While the ‘cultural turn’ literature expects the electoral relevance of moral traditionalism to increase over time alongside that of all other cultural issues, studies inspired by secularization theory rather predict a decrease in its relevance – due to religious decline. Analyzing the data from the European Values Study (1981-2017) for twenty West European countries, we find empirical evidence for a decrease and no indication of an

increase in the electoral relevance of moral traditionalism. Religious decline weakened the effect of moral traditionalism on religious and conservative voting over time due to the most traditionalist voters shifting away from these parties. Our findings, therefore, highlight the need to differentiate between different types of cultural motives behind voting choice in Western Europe.

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Pless, A., Tromp, P., Houtman, D. (2023).  Religious and Secular Value Divides in Western Europe: A Cross-National Comparison (1981-2008). International Political Science Review, 44(2), 178–194. 

Studies on cultural divisions in Western European politics typically combine two different value divides. The first divide is moral traditionalism versus progressiveness, which pits the religious and the secular against each other on matters of procreation, family and gender roles. The second one is authoritarianism versus libertarianism, which captures the opposition between the high- and low-educated about basically secular attitudes towards matters of immigration, law and order. Since the first divide is religiously inspired and the second one is basically secular, this paper systematically distinguishes between them and studies whether secularization in Western Europe affects them differently. We perform multilevel regression analysis using the European Values Study data (four waves, 1981-2008) for seventeen Western European countries. Our findings show that the divide between the religious and the secular about moral issues declines with secularization, while the divide between the high- and low-educated about secular issues, on the opposite, becomes wider.

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Tromp, P., Pless, A., Houtman, D. (2023). Do ‘Spiritual’ Self-Identifications Signify Affinity With New Age? Journal of Contemporary Religion. (in print)

This paper examines nationally representative survey data from the Netherlands collected in 2015 (N=2,197) to study whether the 'spiritual but not religious' embrace New Age spirituality and reject traditional Christian religion, whereas the 'both religious and spiritual' adhere to traditional Christian religion and understand spirituality in a non-New Age fashion (i.e. spirituality in a Christian sense). Yet, we find just as much affinity with New Age spirituality among the 'both religious and spiritual' as among the 'spiritual but not religious'. This is because the more liberal and progressive Christians in the former category embrace New Age spirituality, too, while their more conservative and traditional Christian counterparts in this 'both religious and spiritual' category rather dismiss it. Both within Christian religion and beyond it, then, self-identifications of 'being spiritual' have become quite reliable shortcuts to identify sympathy with what used to be called 'New Age' in the past. 

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Tromp, P., Pless, A., Houtman, D. (2022). A Smaller Pie with a Different Taste: The Evolution of the Western-European Religious Landscape (European Values Study, 1981–2017). Review of Religious Research 64, 127–144.

The thesis of religious decline, central to secularization theory, has become massively contested among social-scientific students of religion. Its critics observe not so much decline, but rather change in the religious landscape of Western Europe, in effect pointing out that the decline of Christianity’s traditional institutional, doctrinal and ritual dimensions should not be mistaken for a decline of religion tout court.PurposeIn this research note, we address this ongoing debate among sociologists of religion by studying whether traditional Christian religiosity has declined in Western Europe over the past four decades, and whether the same applies to religiosity more broadly conceived. To examine these trends over time, we analyze data from the European Values Study (1981–2017) for nineteen Western-European countries. More specifically, we carry out multi-level linear- and multi-level logistic regression analyses.ResultsWe demonstrate that both traditional Christian religiosity and religiosity more broadly conceived have declined, with the former declining at a much higher pace than the latter. We also find that those who continue to be religious and/or spiritual deviate increasingly from the traditional Christian model. Thus, when one does encounter religiosity, it is much more likely to be non-traditional religiosity than was true in the past. We conclude that religion has declined, whether one understands it narrowly as traditional Christian religiosity, or more broadly. Even though new forms of religiosity and spirituality cannot compensate for the loss in traditional Christian religiosity, they do make up an increasing portion of the overall declining religious pie. Finally, we reflect on the limitations of the data from the European Values Study (1981–2017) and make an urgent call for better survey data, especially by including more suitable questions with which to measure types of religiosity and/or spirituality that deviate from the traditional Christian model. 

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Pless, A., Tromp, P., Houtman, D. (2020). The 'New' Cultural Cleavage in Western Europe: A Coalescence of Religious and Secular Value Divides? Politics and Religion, 13(3), 445-464. doi:10.1017/S175504831900049X.

Moral traditionalism versus progressiveness and secular authoritarianism versus libertarianism are often understood as central to the same “new” cultural cleavage in politics. Despite the often-found sizable correlations between these two cultural value divides, the present paper theorizes that this relationship is not a cross-contextual constant, but rather a specific feature of secularized contexts where moral traditionalism is relatively marginal. We test this theory by means of a two-stage statistical analysis of the data from the four waves of the European Values Study (1981–2008) for 17 Western European countries. Our findings confirm that the two value divides are most strongly connected in the most secularized contexts because the latter are least morally traditionalist. While the two cultural divides hence tend to be distinct in more religious Western-European countries, they tend to coalesce into one single “new” cultural divide in more secular ones.

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Extending and building on previous work on the merits of Grace Davie’s theory about ‘believing without belonging’, this paper offers a comparative analysis of changes in the relationships between ‘believing’ and ‘belonging’ across countries. In doing so, two renditions of the theory that co-exist in Grace Davie’s work are distinguished, i.e., the typically foregrounded version about a de-institutionalization of Christianity and its often unnoticed counterpart about a spiritualization of religion. Societal growth curve modelling is applied to the data of the European Values Study for twenty European countries (1981-2008) to test hypotheses derived from both theories. The findings suggest that the typically foregrounded version of a de-institutionalization of Christianity needs to be rejected, while the typically unnoticed version of a spiritualization of religion is supported by the data.

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Kulkova, A. (2018). Religion and Social Justice: A Review of the Influence of Religiosity on Social Policy Preferences. Journal of Social Policy Studies, 16 (2), 251-264. (In Russian)

The generosity of social policy depends on a country’s economic development levels, which, in turn, determine how much the state can redistribute and use to help those in need. However, particular social policies in a given country also depend on citizen preferences and their perceptions of whether it is necessary to help certain categories of people in need, as well as how far the state should intervene in the economy. Unlike most studies that explain differences in social policy preferences with reference to socio-economic factors, this literature review focuses on religion as a cultural predictor of welfare attitudes.

Religion can influence individual redistribution preferences by creating the overall cultural context and setting the standards for helping those in need, as well as via determining believers’ perceptions of who deserves help and how these social support measures should be implemented. The paper offers a review of the mechanisms through which religion can shape individual attitudes towards social policy and, based on these existing studies, analyses whether there are differences in welfare attitudes between followers of different religious traditions, as well as between religious and non-religious individuals in contemporary Europe. Firstly, the paper studies how different modes of interaction between churches and secular states, as well as differences in the content of religious traditions, can lead to the formation of distinctive attitudes towards poverty and, as a consequence, to the formation of distinctive welfare provision regimes in Europe. Following this, the paper reviews how redistribution preferences can be affected by individual religiosity (religious affiliation and degree of religiosity), and identifies the mechanisms through which religion can substitute the state social institutions for its followers.

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Kulkova, A. (2017). Religion or Communist Legacy? The Influence of Religion on Attitudes towards Welfare State in European Countries. Politeia - Journal of Political Theory, Political Philosophy, and Sociology of Politics, 86 (3), 117-135.  (In Russian)

The article examines the influence of religion on the attitudes of Europeans towards the welfare state. A. Kulkova performs multilevel statistical analyses of the data from the fourth wave of the European Social Survey conducted in 27 European countries to conclude that individual religiosity, as well as the affiliation with the Catholic or Protestant tradition, has a negative impact on the perception of the welfare state. Contrary to that, Orthodox Christianity at both the individual and country levels is associated with an increased support for redistribution. At the same time, while there is a pronounced negative relationship between religiosity and the attitudes towards the welfare state in the countries without a communist past, in the post-communist countries, the higher levels of religiosity have almost no effect on the attitudes towards redistribution. 

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Borisova, E., Kulkova, A. (2016). Culture, Names and Economic Development. Voprosy Ekonomiki, (1), 81-106. (In Russian)

Various components of culture have long been in the focus of economic research. Numerous empirical studies show that cultural norms, as well as religion and language, matter for economic development and have not only statistical but also economic significance. This paper considers various examples of how culture can affect individual values and behavior. It also deals with personal names as a key marker of one’s cultural identity. Overall, the paper contributes to the more profound understanding of a famous notion that "culture matters", and helps clarify the mechanisms through which culture exerts its influence. 

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Kulkova, A. (2015). The Interaction between Religiosity and Social Conservatism: Russia and Europe Compared. Social Sciences and Modernity, (3), 141–54.  (In Russian)

The paper is a quantitative study of the interaction between religiosity and attitudes towards sexual minorities that can be regarded as a manifestation of social conservatism. The aim of the research is to identify significant differences in attitudes towards homosexuals among believers and nonbelievers, those who attend religious services regularly and those who “believe without belonging”. Country specifics of the interaction are in the focus of analysis, as well as the differences among Orthodox Christians from different European countries. Statistical analysis results suggest that in Western, Northern and Southern Europe differences among religious groups in attitudes towards homosexuals are stable and significant while Russia and Eastern Europe demonstrate only weak differences among confessions and no effect of the degree of religiosity on one’s approval of sexual minorities.

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Kulkova, A. (2014). The Interaction between Religiosity and Political Participation: Russia and Europe. Social Sciences and Modernity, (6), 102–12.  (In Russian)

The article is a first step towards understanding the specifics of the interaction between religiosity and political behavior in contemporary Russia, and sets a goal to identify whether there are significant differences in political participation between religious and nonreligious people. Statistical analysis results show that political participation of Russians as well of Europeans is influenced by both religious affiliation of the respondent and the degree of religiosity.

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Book chapters (peer reviewed)

Pless, A., Houtman, D. (2021). Moral Traditionalism and Authoritarianism in Post-Communist Eastern Europe: Converging Cultural Value Divides?. In Elżbieta Hałas and Nicolas Maslowski (eds.), Politics of Symbolization Across Central and Eastern Europe. Berlin: Peter Lang, 187–204. 

Moral traditionalism-progressiveness and authoritarianism-libertarianism are often regarded as highly correlated and thus interchangeable value divides. Recent studies, however, suggest that the overlap between them is only typical of the most secularized societies of Western Europe and is an outcome of processes of secularization. In this chapter, we use the data from the EVS (1990-1999-2008) to study the link between the two value divides across 44 European countries. Our findings suggest that the two divides are virtually unrelated in societies with high levels of contextual traditionalism, as exemplified by Post-Communist Eastern Europe where the two represent different cultural-political dimensions. 

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Kulkova (Pless), A. (2017). Religiosity and Political Participation across Europe. In Michael J. Breen (ed.), Values and Identities in Europe. Evidence from the European Social Survey. Abingdon: Routledge, 36–57. 

European countries are culturally close, still showing great variance in political participation rates as well as in predominant religions and state-church relations experience, which makes this region a good case for comparative research. Therefore, it is important to study if members of different confessions differ in political participation rates, or if the main cleavage lies between religious and non-religious people, regardless of religious tradition? Does Orthodoxy really lead to lower levels of political participation or is what we see the effect of political regime or Communist legacy? Statistical analysis results suggest that regular attendance of religious services and praying does increase chances to participate in politics. This pattern holds for followers of all major European religious traditions and in countries with different predominant religions. On the other hand, while there are almost no stable differences in political participation between confessions, both belonging to an Orthodox religious tradition and living in a predominantly Orthodox country exert a stable and negative effect on political participation. Additional tests suggest that there is no difference in political participation between Orthodox Christians from predominantly Orthodox states and those where they form only a minority. Consequently, it is something in a religious tradition itself that decreases political participation.

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Journal articles in progress (peer reviewed)

Pless, A., Khoudja, Y., Grunow, D. (under review) How Polarized is Europe? Public opinion disagreement, issue alignment, and sorting across European countries. 

Whereas attitudinal polarization has become a hot topic for academic debates in the USA over recent decades, the question of whether, and over which issues, European countries are polarized has so far received limited scholarly attention. Existing studies focus on single countries and different types of attitudinal polarization, not allowing for cross-national comparisons. This article provides such a comparison of the state of attitudinal polarization across 21 EU member states. Using the EVS-2017 data, we study three types of attitudinal polarization (disagreement, issue alignment, and sorting) over five key attitudinal dimensions: social inequality, immigration, EU-integration, gender, and environment. Contrary to prominent claims of a polarized Europe, our findings indicate medium levels of opinion disagreement, low levels of alignment and low but slightly higher levels of sorting. We further find that different types of attitudinal polarization do not coincide with each other on a country level but do produce geographical clusters. Polarization as disagreement is higher in the East and South of Europe, while issue alignment and sorting are higher in the North and West. Looking at the three types of polarization together, immigration is slightly more divisive than other dimensions. However, contrary to the new cultural cleavage expectations, disagreement over social inequality is still remarkably high, especially in the South and East of Europe.

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Pless, A., Houtman, D. (under review) New Left, New Right, and Religious Decline: ‘New’ Cultural Voting in Western Europe (1990 – 2017)

Studies of the ‘new’ cleavage in politics have typically addressed either new-leftist or new-rightist voting, in the process often invoking the principal motivational drivers of ‘old’ class voting and ‘old’ religious voting. Analyzing the data from the four waves of the EVS (1990-2017) for fifteen West European countries, this article pits voters of the new left and the new right directly against each other to study the motivational drivers of ‘new’ voting. We find that rather than either of the two ‘old’ motives (economic conservatism-egalitarianism and moral progressiveness-traditionalism), secular libertarianism-authoritarianism constitutes the principal driver of ‘new’ voting across all four waves. Its electoral significance has no less than tripled since 1990, resulting in a clear-cut divide between supporters of the new left and the new right by 2017, with processes of religious decline having played a significant role in this transformation of politics.

Pless, A. (in progress) Not only immigration: The changing salience of economic and cultural issues across Europe (1980-2020)

Existing studies on issue salience in Europe focus primarily on the rise of immigration as the most dividing political topic of recent decades, while other issues receive far less attention. This study questions whether immigration actually represents the most salient issue dimension in different European countries by analyzing the trends in the salience of five issue dimensions: immigration, EU integration, social inequality, gender and sexuality, and environment. Using the Manifesto Project data on party programs, I compute a national-level measure of salience for each issue dimension in each election year in 24 European countries between 1990 and 2020. Issue salience is measured as an average weighted share of party programs devoted to a particular issue in each election. The estimated time-trends of issue salience (1) demonstrate where and under which conditions other issues are more important than immigration, and (2) uncover several geographical clusters of countries with similar profiles of salience and similar trajectories of salience evolution. This study contributes to the growing body of literature on salience and polarization and offers another perspective on whether Europe is growing together. 

Working papers (peer reviewed)

Kulkova, A. (2015). Religiosity and Political Participation: The Role of Politics in Russian Religious Communities. Working papers by NRU Higher School of Economics. Series  WP14 ‘Political Theory and Political Analysis’, (2). 

The paper investigates the interaction between religiosity and political participation in modern Russia in order to identify which of the religious predictors explain political participation better – religious affiliation or the degree of religiosity. Statistical analysis results are then interpreted using the data from in-depth interviews with representatives of Russian Orthodox Christian and Muslim religious communities. Behavioral measures of religiosity are positively and robustly connected to political participation while differences between confessions are unstable and appear in 2012 only. Political issues are discussed in Russian religious communities and political participation is encouraged. 

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Kulkova, A. (2014). Religiosity and Political Participation in Contemporary Russia: A Quantitative Analysis. Working papers by NRU Higher School of Economics. Series PS ‘Political Science’, (20). 

The paper argues that religiosity is one of the potential determinants of political participation in Russia. A complex model of religiosity is applied, which treats individual religiosity as both belonging to religious tradition and religious behavior, while political participation includes voting, attending demonstrations, signing petitions and participating in electoral campaigns. The aim of this research is to identify whether there is a difference in political participation between religious and non-religious Russians, and between followers of different religious traditions and atheists. Secondly, it is important to explore which of the measurements of religiosity, religious tradition or religious behavior have the most powerful effect on Russians’ political participation. The data for the statistical analysis is from the European Social Survey (6th round), which includes representatives of major religious traditions in Russia. 

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