Hell: How do ‘our’ beliefs compare worldwide?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Hell
Lord Yama judging souls and sending some to Naraka

Beliefs in Hell vary widely around the world. Most Americans are familiar with Christian imagery of Hell, but a belief in Hell (Jahannam) is central in Islam and Hindus also have a traditional way of describing a cosmic Judgment and the possibility of being sent to a Hell (Naraka). This illustration shows Yama (the lord of death) deciding whether souls should spend some time in Naraka before they are reincarnated as higher or perhaps lower beings.

A large majority of Americans believe in the existence of Hell, as we discussed earlier this week. How typical is this belief? Is belief in Hell more popular here than elsewhere around the globe?

An average of 60% of the world believes in Hell, according to the latest wave of the World Values Surveys. The U.S. clocks in at 70%, according to this survey, which is very close to the 73% of Americans who say they believe in Hell according to the Baylor Religion Survey.

Belief in Hell is higher than the U.S. level of belief in 18 of the 46 countries surveyed by the World Values Surveys. For example, almost all (99%) of the peoples of Pakistan, Algeria, and Iraq believe in the existence of Hell. Virtually all of the countries with high levels of belief in Hell are poor or developing nations.

At the other end, very few people (fewer than 20%) believe in Hell in Japan, Germany, Estonia, Sweden, China, and the Netherlands.

Nations with levels of belief in Hell similar to the U.S. include Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Taiwan, and Romania. These are not the usual countries that come to mind when we think of those that are similar to the U.S.

Once again, the U.S. is exceptional—qualitatively different from other affluent democracies.

Are you surprised to learn that, comparatively speaking, the level of belief in Hell is high in America?

How do you explain it?

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