Supercomputer to help understand secularisation in Poland

In November, researchers led by Konrad Talmont-Kamiński of the Sociology Institute at the University of Bydgoszcz inaugurated an extensive research project. Its goal is to answer a range of questions, including why developed societies become ever-more secular, what is this phenomenon contingent on and where might it lead us?

With a PLN 5.5 mln (EUR 1,23 mln) grant acquired as part of a competition organised by the National Science Centre (NCN), joined by NORCE Norwegian Research Centre AS, Mr Talmont-Kmiński and his team are faced with a task of creating computer models of faith-related social phenomena.

“Scientific theories often demonstrate phenomena in a simple and limited way. Meanwhile, social processes, in this case secularising ones, are very complex, non-linear and characterised by many variables. That is why hi-tech tools are helpful in understanding them,” Mr Talmont-Kamiński told the Polish Press Agency.

Hence a high-performance computer will be purchased for about PLN 250,000 (EUR 55,905) with specialised programming to allow for more complex simulations than the equipment hitherto used in other similar projects. For the sake of modelling, researchers use numerous quantitative data originating from sources such as the European Values Study (EVS) or Pew Research Center.

With analyses in view, researchers will collect data from Poles as well. A further 200 people are to take part in behavioural lab research. Online polling of a representative group will also be found in the researchers’ toolbox. Part of the surveys will be carried out with English-speaking individuals from all over the world.

Mr Talmont-Kamiński’s suggestion is that the adherence of people living in developed countries to any organised form of a religion has been dropping, in some places for the past 200 years.

“An ever-growing number of people do not identify themselves with any religion whatsoever. It is worth noting that Poland is a society that undergoes secularisation the fastest,” he stressed. The researcher defined religion as a magical ideology and by ideology, he means a system of convictions that display a function of triggering pro-social behaviours. Meanwhile, he did not observe a significant withdrawal from secular ideologies, nationalism in particular.

Sociologists have been coming up with an array of theories explaining the growing secularisation in Poland. Mr Talont-Kamiński is the most inclined towards one saying that along with the sense of existential security and the long-lasting sense of wellbeing, understood as the lack of social unrest and the availability of social support such as healthcare and unemployment benefits, the number of believers falls.

“This, however, fails to explain the notable differences between the number of believers in the Czech Republic and Poland, while both societies are quite similar,” the researcher said, adding that it was why the help of a supercomputer was needed.

The ongoing pandemic adds an intriguing variable to the research of Mr Talmont-Karmiński’s team. Will the prolonged situation fraught with economic incertitudes result in the reversal of the trend and intensification of religiosity amongst Europeans and Poles? The researcher advocates caution.

“The level of religiosity usually does not change unequivocally along with age. A couple of months-long period of the pandemic may only deepen the religiosity of today’s teens, currently on the doorstep of adulthood, only a mite,” he said, adding that “assuming the pandemic won’t last for years, the trend of secularisation will probably continue.”