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Who experiences miracles? The answer might surprise you

Are you ready for a miracle? This study from Baylor University deepens our understanding of why people believe in divine intervention.

Who experiences miracles? The answer might surprise you
[Photo: Naassom Azevedo/Unsplash]
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Hoping for a miracle? Consider your demographics. A new study from Baylor University shows that perceived miracles are the domain of people facing mortal danger.

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Edwin Eschler, a PhD candidate in sociology at Baylor University, looked at a survey of 15,4000 respondents from 16 countries in Latin America by the Pew Research Center. He defined a “miracle” as an experience in which a person believes that an event or outcome was influenced by supernatural agents.

Surprisingly, he found no correlation between education level and likelihood of experiencing a miracle. “Respondents with no formal education were just as likely to experience a miracle as those with a college degree,” said Eschler in a statement.

Instead, miracles were strongly tied to threats to survival, particularly instability such as not being able to afford food, clothing, and medicine—meaning that people become more spiritual when their existence is under siege. Though all groups, across classes, experience what they believe are miracles, “the richest and most well educated are still more likely to experience miracles if their life becomes uncertain or is threatened,” Eschler added.

This is a pivotal understanding for organizations aiming to help people impacted by instability, war, and disease, showing that even in science-driven contexts, suffering people may well attribute control to divine intervention. Protestants, by the way, have more “divine encounters” than Catholics—suggesting that underlying religious culture also plays a role.

Many adults worldwide believe they have experienced one, says Eschler, but data in developed countries is limited, because researchers tend to not ask the question in countries like the U.S. The Pew survey found that 57% of respondents believed they had experienced a miracle of some kind.