Religion and migration were discussed in the previous chapter because they are seemingly helpful in accounting for differences in basic demographic facts. But that is not the only part that they play in the structure of society. Religion and, for immigrants, country of origin are powerful sources of identity, enabling people to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ in ways that might place them together with some people around them but also perhaps distinguish them from others. It is not possible to study all potential identities of this kind here, even if they might be very important. For example, most people have some idea of the cultural styles with which they identify, and this will affect their taste in clothes, music and other aspects of consumption and culture. For many, participation in a sport or cultural activity, or support for a particular sports team, provides an important sense of who they are. For a smaller number, association with a political party or participation in a voluntary activity provides key answers to this basic question. Personal though they are, such identities can be significant, in giving us strong loyalties, helping us to place ourselves within the general mass of humanity and determining the kinds of goods we buy and events we attend. In societies where religion is declining in importance – which, as we shall see, is the case in most of Europe – identities of these kinds play an increasingly important part.
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