Modeling the Decline of Religion: Do Social Networks Matter?

Wednesdays@NICO Seminar, Noon, November 2 2011, Chambers Hall, Lower Level

Prof. Danny Abrams, Northwestern University


Much like animals competing for a limited supply of food or water, social groups can be thought of as self-perpetuating entities that compete for members. The group of religiously-unaffiliated individuals has grown rapidly in recent times. We use research on social conformity, together with methods from nonlinear physics, as the basis for a mathematical model of this growth, and come to a startling conclusion: coexistence of religious and irreligious segments of society may be unstable! We examine variations on our model to test the effects of differing social network structures. Surprisingly, the predictions seem to be robust, regardless of network type. We test the model with historical census data drawn from 85 regions of nine modern secular democracies, and find that it fits data well. According to the model, a slight advantage in the perceived utility of religious non-affiliation should lead to the long-term decline of religion.


Danny Abrams is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics at Northwestern University. He holds a B.S. in Applied Physics from Caltech, a Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University, and was an NSF Math Sciences postdoctoral fellow as well as a Fulbright Scholar. Danny's research interests include synchronization, mathematical geoscience, and mathematical modeling of social systems. More information can be found at