Category Archives: religion

American Grace co-author David Campbell on religion and giving

Flickr/Much0

Flickr/Much0

David Campbell (Co-Author of American Grace) has a piece in TIME.com on the link between religion and giving.

Excerpt:

Over the last twenty years, one of the most stunning changes to the American social landscape has been the dramatic rise in the percentage of Americans who report having no religious affiliation—the group that has come to be known as the “nones.” Today, 20 percent of Americans disclaim a religious affiliation,and among millennials, it is over 30 percent. At the same time, there has been a growing debate over whether the secularization of society will lead to a decrease in charitable giving, with secularists—whether they consider themselves atheists, agnostics, or humanists—tending to argue that fewer religious Americans will simply mean fewer contributions to pay for churches and synagogues that fewer Americans are attending anyway.

Not exactly. A new report by Jumpstart and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy details the many ways that religion and the charitable sector are intertwined. Based on a major national survey, this report finds that three-quarters of all household charitable giving goes to organizations that have religious ties. These span the range from large organizations like the Salvation Army (which, many Americans do not realize, is actually a church) to small soup kitchens run out of church basements.

Read the rest of David Campbell’s “Religious People are More Charitable” (TIME.com, 11/26/13)

Nice graphic on rise of the “nones” (Americans saying they have no religious preferenc)

This graphic from Good magazine (zoomable version here) has a nice picture, using Pew data, of who the “nones” are in America but as Bob Putnam points out, mis-states  their lack of religiosity on the right hand side of graphic.

Over half of the nones in our Faith Matters Surveys (which we’ve done three times) express belief in God.  American Grace points out that the young have left houses of worship  not because they are Godless, but because they dislike the close intertwining of conservative politics and religion.

http://awesome.good.is.s3.amazonaws.com/transparency/web/1303/contrary-to-popular-belief/flat.html

The connection between religiosity and wellbeing

Our colleague, Chaeyoon Lim, wrote a summary of his research findings on the connection between religiosity and wellbeing using the amazing Gallup- Healthways data (that has surveyed 1,000 people a day for several years).

Excerpt: “Americans who attend a church, synagogue, or mosque frequently report experiencing more positive emotions and fewer negative ones in general than do those who attend less often or not at all. Frequent churchgoers experience an average of 3.36 positive emotions per day compared with an average of 3.08 among those who never attend. This relationship holds true even when controlling for key demographic variables like age, education, and income.”

Not included in Chaeyoon’s published comments, he also found that, even controlling for other factors like age, gender, race, and the like, Americans would have either had to increase their income by $90,000 a year or gain a college education to have the same increase in life satisfaction as they get from weekly church attendance.”

If you click on the below graph, you can see that all religions and even respondents with no religion frequently reported higher life satisfaction  as they went to church more often (controlling for all the standard factors like age, region, gender, income, education, etc.).  You may ask how those with no religion attended “church” frequently;  most typically in our Faith Matters surveys it was when a religious spouse got their non-religious spouse to accompany them.

Chaeyoon’s work also shows that while all Americans are happier on the weekend, secular Americans experience a drop from Saturday to Sunday in their happiness;  religious Americans are happier every day from Monday through Saturday and then their happiness, rather than declining on Sunday, goes up even higher than Saturday.

Read “In U.S., Churchgoers Boast Better Mood, Especially on Sundays: Those who don’t attend religious services often see their mood decline” (by Chaeyoon Lim)

For other work on the connection between happiness, life satisfaction and religiosity, see American Grace (end of Chapter 12) and “Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction” by Chaeyoon Lim and Robert Putnam, American Sociological Review 2010, Vol. 75(6): 914–93.

Extinction of Western Religion?

Flickr photo by moominsean

CNN reports the projected extinction of western religion.

A few major caveats:

1) The underlying paper on which this report is based only focuses on Western Europe (which has seen rising rates of secularization much faster than in the US).  While rates of “nonery” (those saying “none” to a question of what their religious tradition is) have risen dramatically in the US (see “American Grace“), most of these “nones” still actually believe in God, they just haven’t found the right church; and

2) Relatedly, these projections assume that people flip to be “secular” to mirror the populations around them, but assumes that the religious environment itself doesn’t change to attract these seculars.  U.S. history is rife with examples of religious entrepreneurship — religious leaders inventing or reinventing religion to meet changed needs.  “American Grace” in Chapter 6 discusses a host of these like megachurches, Mormonism, circuit riders, the chapel car, cyber- religion, televangelism, etc.

Excerpt from “American Grace“:

In the nineteenth century, the American frontie4r presented a problem for religious leaders.  People, especially young people, were spread out in far-flung communities, many of which were too new to have churches.  And so both Protestant ministers and catholic priests came up with an ingenious solution — the chapel car.  Clergy would use these train cars repurposed into mini-chapels to travel from town to town, holding services for the otherwise unchurched settlers on the frontier.  They are largely forgotten today, but in their day chapel cars represented the state of the art in bringing religion to remote areas.

The paper by Abrams et. al, summarized in the CNN story, ignores this entrepreneurship and assumes that religious leaders and entrepreneurs will sit idly by and watch their denominations dwindle rather than invent new ways of helping to attract new converts.  This seems extremely short-sided in making predictions of the future.

The quote from Peter Berger at the end of the CNN story is telling.

Peter Berger, a former president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, once said that, “People will become so bored with what religious groups have to offer that they will look elsewhere.”

He said Protestantism “has reached the strange state of self-liquidation,” that Catholicism was in severe crisis, and anticipated that “religions are likely to survive in small enclaves and pockets” in the United States.

He made those predictions in February 1968.

Obviously Berger’s prediction hasn’t materialized.

For more detail, see paper by Daniel Abrams, Richard Wiener and Haley A. Yaple called “A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation,”presented it this week at the Dallas meeting of the American Physical Society.

For more blog posts on “American Grace”, visit here.

Praying alone is no fun; having friends at church makes you happier

Flickr photo by Shavar Ross

[Also cross-posted on the American Grace Blog]
American Grace research team members Chaeyoon Lim and Robert Putnam have an article in the prestigious American Sociological Review demonstrating that religion actually makes you happier and it works through having close friends at church.

“Our study offers compelling evidence that it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction,” said Chaeyoon Lim, assistant professor of sociology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the study. “Listening to sermons or praying is not enough.  In particular, we find that friendships built in religious congregations are the secret ingredient that makes people happier.”

A host of studies have found a correlation between happiness and religiosity, but they suffered from the vulnerabilities of any single shot survey. Was religiosity truly causing happiness, was happiness causing greater religiosity, or was some third factor responsible (say an extroverted gene that made people both happier and more likely to go to “church”)? With the large nationally representative Faith Matters surveys, which interviewed the same Americans twice in a 6-9 month period, Lim and Putnam demonstrate that increased church attendance over that 6-9 month period increases life satisfaction. Surprisingly, they find that more overtly religious factors like theology (e.g., belief about the type of God or the afterlife or what religion you belong to) and private religious practices (e.g., experiencing God’s presence in your life or saying Grace or frequency of prayer) did not predict greater life satisfaction.

So what explained the power of religious attendance? Lim and Putnam found that it was having close friends in one’s house of worship. While friends in general cause people to have greater life satisfaction, friends at church serve as “super-charged” friends, with an even stronger impact on life satisfaction than secular friends.

It’s not clear exactly why close friends at church have such strong power. Lim and Putnam speculate that these church friends anchor “a strong sense of belonging in these religious communities” and provide parishioners with “morally-infused social support. In other words, if one seeks life satisfaction, it is neither faith nor communities alone that are important, but communities of faith. For life satisfaction, praying together seems better than either bowling together or praying alone. These findings suggest that religious leaders should invest more of their time, treasure and talent in deepening the social dimensions of congregational life, such as through small support or worship groups, potlucks and choirs. This is likely to pay dividends to their congregants in making them happier and also benefit the religious leaders by making their congregants more likely to stay active religious members.”

Specifically, they find that those who attend church sporadically but nonetheless have close friends at church, likely working through religious spouses, are quite high in life satisfaction whereas those who attend church regularly but don’t have church friends are not. “According to the study, 33 percent of people who attend religious services every week and have three to five close friends in their congregation report that they are ‘extremely satisfied’ with their lives” (a 10 on the 1 to 10 question scale). “In comparison, only 19 percent of people who attend religious services weekly, but who have no close friends in their congregation report that they are extremely satisfied. On the other hand, 23 percent of people who attend religious services only several times a year, but who have three to five close friends in their congregation are extremely satisfied with their lives. Finally, 19 percent of people who never attend religious services, and therefore have no friends from congregation, say they are extremely satisfied with their lives.”

Note: Putnam and Lim control for the all the natural demographic correlates that might be causing spurious findings.

The Faith Matters findings apply to the three main Christian traditions (Mainline Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, and Catholic). “We also find similar patterns among Jews and Mormons, even with a much smaller sample size,” said Lim, who noted that there were not enough Muslims or Buddhists in the data set to test the model for those groups.

It’s possible that there are other real-world secular examples of groups where in-group friendships provide the same level of ‘morally-infused” social support: e.g., 12-step programs, or zealous environmental activist networks, or uncorrupted unions, or MADD. Since these findings are relatively new, we haven’t firmly tested to find secular equivalents of these morally-infused networks although it is clear that there is nothing in the US that has anything like the frequency of friends of church, since so many more Americans are in the pews on a Sunday than participating weekly in an environmental group or a 12-step program. The Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron has made clear to us in conversations, given much lower levels of religiosity in that country, that he is actively interested in finding out if there are secular takeaways from these life satisfaction findings that could be applied in the UK without exhorting more Brits to attend and make friends at church; Cameron’s interest is also sparked by his recent decision to actively measure life satisfaction in the UK as a key indicator of how well government is doing.

We’ll also be doing some further testing in additional surveying we are doing to try to understand more about what makes “close friends at church” so powerful. We welcome your thoughts…

CNN notes: “it is worth examining in the future why this study did not find the same link between happiness and spirituality that others did, the authors say. This may have to do with how different aspects of religion are measured. For example, those who reported that they ‘feel God’s love’ seemed to have more life satisfaction than those who did not, but this did not apply for similar questions about belief in God. Also, it is impossible to draw conclusions about whether ‘feeling God’s love’ causes happiness or vice versa. Could other networks of people have the same effect on happiness? The authors say that if this is possible, it’s hard to think of a non-religious context with a similar strength of identity, intensity of participation in ritual, and great scale and scope of the people in it.”

Cite: “Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction,” American Sociological Review, 75(6), December 2010.

Beyond CNN, see news stories in USA TodayNational Post, Discovery, Live Science, Science News, TIMES of India, Montreal Gazette, and Daily Mail.

Will the real non-religious please stand up?

[also cross-posted on American Grace Blog]

Saguaro research team members Chaeyoon Lim, Carol Ann MacGregor, and Robert D. Putnam have an academic article out in the new issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion called “Secular and Liminal.”

In the study, using our two waves of Faith Matters panel data on religion (and other relevant data), they find that about 30% of Americans who appeared to have “no religion” when we surveyed them in 2006, claimed a religious affiliation in 2007 (just 6-9 months later), although their beliefs and practices had not significantly changed.

They point out that these “liminals” (with one foot in and one foot out of religion) aren’t captured by any one-shot survey of religiosity since by definition, liminals only show up when one can compare the religiosity of an individual at time1 and time2.  These liminals, as one might expect, are more religious than the truly and consistent secular Americans, but less religious than the truly and consistent religious Americans.  And in examining the social consequences of religion, the liminals exhibit less strong relationships with these social correlates of religion than the truly religious. They are yet another manifestation of the increasing American religious fluidity that is explored and described in American Grace.  [For more on American Grace, see the American Grace Blog.]

Abstract: This study examines the stability of religious preference among people who claim no religious preference in national surveys (i.e., religious nones). Using data from the Faith Matters Study, General Social Survey, and American National Election Study, we show that about 30 percent of religious nones in the first wave of the survey claim an affiliation with a religious group a year later. The percentage of religious nones remained stable in the two waves because a similar number of respondents moved in the opposite direction. Using various measures of religiosity, we show that most of these unstable nones report no significant change in religious belief or practice. We call them liminal nones as they stand halfway in and halfway out of a religious identity. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings on the controversies surrounding the rise of religious nones in recent years.

Cite: “Secular and Liminal: Discovering Heterogeneity Among Religious Nones” by Chaeyoon Lim, Carol Ann MacGregor, and Robert D. Putnam. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 49(4):596–618, December 2010

Good interviews with Putnam/Campbell about religion in America

Two interesting interviews with American Grace co-authors Robert Putnam and David Campbell, describing the sweeping changes occurring in the American religious landscape over the past half century and their social consequences: on politics, on youth, on tolerance, and on civic engagement.

Brian Lehrer interview available here

MSNBC “Morning Joe” interview available here.

For more on American Grace, see the American Grace blog including interviews about American Grace on BBC, NPR Weekend Edition, PBS NewsHour, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, Talk of the Nation, etc.

Blogging on AmericanGrace Blog

I’ll be blogging on American Grace Blog for at least the next several weeks.  I won’t cross-post, but you can check out the American Grace Blog here.  (I’ve already posted on the fracas regarding the mosque near Ground Zero and Chelsea Clinton’s recent religious intermarriage;  more to come…)

And enjoy the book American Grace when it comes out in October.

Millennials, Religion and Civic Engagement

[cross posted on American Grace blog)

Flickr photo by Echobase

American Grace co-author David Campbell appeared on a Pew-sponsored panel called Portrait of the Millennial Generation with Neil Howe, Andy Kohut and Judy Woodruff, among others. Allison Pond, research associate at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, discussed some of Pew’s findings re Millennials and religion. Millennials, in comparison to earlier generations, according to Pond, are  less likely to pray, less likely to assert that religion is important to them, just as likely to believe in heaven/hell or in the afterlife, and more likely to tinker with religion (finding ways to cobble together a spiritual life although they are less connected to religious institutions).

As David Campbell points out on the panel:

If you look over the long haul from the ’60s to the ’70s, you do see a slight increase in the overall percentage of Americans who were evangelicals, and much of that growth was concentrated among young people.

That, however, ceased to be the case over the last 10 or 15 years. You have seen evangelical churches remain on the American landscape. And anyone who has been to the Saddleback Church in California or the Willow Creek Church in Chicago — these are massive megachurches — will know what I mean. It’s not that Millennials are streaming out of these churches, but they’re not being attracted to them the way that young people were in the past. That suggests to me that there’s an opening for religious entrepreneurs to somehow reach that segment of the population. They haven’t yet done so, and evangelicalism as it exists today does not seem to be reaching them.

On a later panel that same day Scott Keeter et. al. discussed differences between the Millennial Generation and earlier generations on abortion (more pro-choice) and religiosity (less religious).   And one questioner alluded to Pew’s findings that Millennials much more strongly believe that  “Houses of worship should express views on social and political issues”, to which Andy Kohut observed that these differences have to be interpreted in light of Millennials growing up in a context of greater separation of church and state than previous generations.

[In other discussions on the morning panel and afternoon panel there was a discussion of Millennials and community engagement.  For our  (Robert Putnam's and my) take on this, see "Still Bowling Alone?" in the January Journal of Democracy.]

Some of findings to come in American Grace are consistent with Pew’s findings and some appear to differ. Stay tuned.