A tentative conclusion is that people are more religious when their societies fail to give them the support or feeling of well-being that, for example, is enjoyed by inhabitants of countries like Sweden and Denmark.
From what I can deduce the studies didn’t attempt too much to explain the why’s and the wherefores and merely stated the findings and correlations between religiosity and ‘under-development’ but he does say:
Why the correlation? Again, it could mean—but I am not pushing this interpretation as dogma—that people tend to either become more religious or retain a historical religiosity in areas where they are not very well off. There may also be ethnic differences that contribute to this (the population of blacks in America is concentrated in the south, for instance, and educational attainment is lower in general), but education itself is likely negatively correlated with indices of well being, and poverty is a component of both the HDI and SSS.
As a development economist myself, I have found similar correlations through observation and empirical studies in a number of very poor countries and populations. I have a different take on the why and wherefore and believe that religionists have exploited this ‘ignorance’ to suit their own agendas and in doing so to manipulate the people and even governments. The recent legislation against gays in Uganda fomented by three American priests is a good recent example of this. Fear is the currency of the churches and when people are poorly serviced, living in squalid conditions and under(un)-educated it creates the feeding grounds for religions. Of course the churches are quick to point out how they are working to eradicate poverty etc and build schools and therein lies the rub: they are able to control what the children learn and so perpetuate their control.
Naturally correlation is not causation. The inverse relationship quoted above states that religion/belief in mysticism is strongest in countries where people need support structures to overcome stress such as poverty etc. but they don’t state that poverty caused religion to grow…this is nevertheless a hypothesis that could be tested and I suspect could be proven. Watch what happens for example when people start to fear “THE END” or an alien invasion. Here’s how I related how the end of the world in my book “Moses was a Liar” is exploited when an charismatic priest cajoles his flock on the pending “end of days”
[i]"While we will all be affected, those who have not prepared themselves, those who have not prayed or searched for the truth or learned about the Lord our God, will be the ones who will be affected the most. They will not be ready for the internal changes and shall focus only on the changes of the material world around them. They shall run before the disciples of Satan who shall strike them down and scatter them like chaff before the wind."
"I offer you a message of hope! This is a time for rejoicing because the changes, as are being signalled by the comet we can see every night in the sky, the changes that await us, will call for us to be honest with ourselves, with our loved ones, with our neighbours and above all with God."[/i]
...of course he asks them to donate freely before the end! >:D