Neither religious nor rational: heterodoxy and institutional trust

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According to the optimistic reading of the trust deficit in contemporary democracies, an increasingly non-religious and presumably more rational citizenry is naturally inclined to distrust public institutions. This modern shift is viewed as a positive check that can supposedly improve representative government. This article proposes a more nuanced understanding of the influence of supernatural beliefs on institutional trust. Specifically, the article moves beyond the popular analytical dichotomy between the religious and the non-religious by separating the non-religious into a non-believer segment and a segment hitherto overlooked by studies of political trust: unconventional or heterodox believers (e.g. in astrology and lucky charms, but not in conventional religion). Using comparative data from the International Social Survey Programme, the study finds that heterodox believers, similarly to non-believers, tend to distrust institutions, albeit for very different reasons. The previously ignored role of heterodox beliefs points to grave implications regarding the current trust deficit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalWest European Politics
Early online date28 Nov 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Nov 2022


  • institutional trust
  • religiosity
  • heterodoxy
  • anti-science attitudes


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