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The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 7, Issue 1, September 2004

A publication of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor

The Civil Society Bookshelf

Critical Mission: Essays on Democracy Promotion
By Thomas Carothers
Reviewed by Craig L. LaMay

Just Money: A Critique of Contemporary American Philanthropy
Edited by H. Peter Karoff
Reviewed by Michael Bisesi

Islam, Charity, and Activism: Middle-Class Networks and Social Welfare in Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen
By Janine A. Clark
Reviewed by Amani Kandil

The Dubious Link: Civic Engagement and Democratization
By Ariel C. Armony
Reviewed by Micheline Ishay

Gifts and Nations: The Obligation to Give, Receive, and Repay
By Wilton S. Dillon
Reviewed by Bill Landsberg

The Tax Treatment of NGOs: Legal, Ethical, and Fiscal Frameworks for Promoting NGOs and Their Activities
Edited by Paul Bater, Frits Hondius, and Penina Kessler Lieber
Reviewed by Patricia Lyons

Articles

A Nation Long Forlorn: Liberia's Journey from Civil War toward Civil Society
J. Peter Pham

Religious Organizations and Social Capital
Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart

Explaining Percentage Philanthropy: Legal Nature, Rationales, Impacts
Nilda Bullain

Current Developments: Regulation of American Charities
Milton Cerny

- - - - - - - - - -

Editorial Board

Religious Organizations and Social Capital

By Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart*

What are the broad consequences of secularization for engagement in faith-based organizations, civic networks, and social capital in post-industrial societies? Mainline Protestant churches in the United States--Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Lutherans--have long been regarded as playing a central role in the lives of their local communities. They are believed to do so by providing places for people to meet, fostering informal social networks of friends and neighbors, developing leadership skills in religious organizations and church committees, informing people about public affairs, delivering welfare services, providing a community meeting place, drawing together people from diverse social and ethnic backgrounds, and encouraging active involvement in associational groups concerned with education, youth development and human services, exemplified by the Rotary clubs, YMCA, and school boards[1] .

The role of churches in the United States raises important questions: in particular, do religious institutions function in similar ways in other countries, fostering social networks, associational activism, and civic engagement? And, if so, has secularization contributed to an erosion of social capital in post-industrial societies? To focus on these issues the first section of this article outlines Robert Putnam’s influential theory about the role of religion in social capital. We then analyze the extent to which religious participation seems to affect belonging to voluntary organizations and community associations, both faith-based and non-religious, in different faiths and types of society. The last section considers the effects of religious participation on a broader range of civic attitudes and behaviors.  

Putnam’s Theory of Social Capital

Theories of social capital originated in the ideas by Pierre Bourdieu and James Coleman, emphasizing the importance of social ties and shared norms for societal well-being and economic efficiency[2] . Robert Putnam generated widespread debate when he expanded this notion in Making Democracy Work(1993) and in Bowling Alone (2000)[3] . For Putnam, social capital means “connections among individuals--social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”[4] This is understood as both a structural phenomenon (social networks of friends, neighbors, and colleagues) and a cultural phenomenon (social norms which facilitate collaborative cooperation).

The heart of Putnam’s theory rests on three key claims. The first is that horizontal networks embodied in civic society, and the norms and values related to these ties, have important social consequences, both for the people in them and for society at large, by producing private goods and public goods. In particular, networks of friends, colleagues and neighbors are associated with norms of generalized reciprocity in a skein of mutual obligations and responsibilities. Bridging networks are thought to foster the conditions for collaboration, coordination and cooperation to create collective goods. Voluntary organizations such as parent-teacher associations, women’s groups and youth clubs are regarded as particularly important for this process because active engagement brings local people into face-to-face contact, achieves specific community goals, and encourages broader traits, including inter-personal trust. In turn, social capital is believed to function as an important resource leading towards a diverse array of benefits from individual health and happiness to child welfare and education, social tolerance, economic prosperity, reduced ethnic violence, and good institutional performance: “social capital makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer.[5]

Moreover, in Bowling Alone Putnam argues that, as churches have traditionally played a vital role in American civic life, the process of secularization has significantly contributed to the erosion of community activism. Putnam regards religious organizations, particularly Protestant churches, as uniquely important for American civic society: “Faith communities in which people worship together are arguably the single most important repository of social capital in America”[6] . Religious involvement is seen as central for American communities, with faith-based organizations serving civic life directly by providing social support for members and services to the local area, as well as indirectly, by nurturing organizational skills, inculcating moral values, and encouraging altruism. The decline in religious involvement during the twentieth century, he suggests, is most evident among the younger generations. “Americans are going to church less often than we did three or four decades ago, and the churches we go to are less engaged with the wider community. Trends in religious life reinforce rather than counterbalance the ominous plunge in social connectedness in the secular community.”[7] Putnam suggests that the United States is far from unique in this regard, as a fall in church-attendance is also evident in similar societies elsewhere: “The universal decline of engagement in these institutions is a striking fact about the dynamics of social capital in advanced democracies.”[8]

Putnam also argues that social capital has significant political consequences, both for democratic citizenship and ultimately for government performance. The theory can be understood as a two-step model which claims that civic society directly promotes social capital (the social networks and cultural norms that arise from civic society), which in turn facilitates political participation and good governance. ‘Civic engagement’ refers to a variety of activities, ranging from the act of voting to more demanding forms of participation exemplified by campaign work, party membership, contacting officials and protesting. Others have confirmed the central role of churches in fostering civic engagement in America; for example Verba, Schlozman and Brady found that being recruited to vote or to take some other form of political action through church, work, or other non-political organization was a powerful predictor of political participation, being approximately as powerful as education or political interest[9] . Rosenstone and Hansen argue that people are ‘pulled’ into political activism by party organizations, group networks like churches, and by informal social networks[10] . Drawing on the American survey evidence available since the late 1960s and early 1970s, Putnam documents an erosion of traditional forms of conventional political engagement, exemplified by attending public meetings, working for a political party, and signing petitions, which he links with the decline in voluntary associations during the postwar era[11] . Putnam demonstrates that membership in many forms of civic associations, including labor unions, social clubs like the Elks and the Moose, and community organizations such as the PTA, expanded in the early twentieth century but then faded in postwar America.

But it remains unclear whether a steady erosion of membership in voluntary organizations has occurred during the postwar era, either in the United States or in other postindustrial nations[12] . Several investigators dispute the American evidence; Rotolo, for example, examined annual trends in American associational membership from 1974 to 1994 as measured by the General Social Survey, replicating Putnam’s approach[13] . The study confirmed that some organizations, such as church-related groups, trade unions, fraternal organizations, sports-related groups, and college fraternities experienced falling membership. But others had stable membership, and some groups, such as hobby clubs, literary groups, professional associations, school-related organizations, and veterans’ groups, saw a substantial expansion in membership during these years. Wuthnow reaches similar conclusions concerning varied trends across diverse social sectors[14] .

The available research has generally failed to demonstrate a consistent and universal slump in grassroots affiliation across a broad range of associations in most postindustrial nations in recent decades. Instead, studies generally report diverse trends in membership and activism among different types of associational groups, for example a shrinkage in the mass base of trade unions in many (but not all) nations, but rising activism in new social movements, including those concerned with human rights, globalization, women’s issues, and the environment[15] . Comparisons also reveal persistent differences in the strength and vitality of civic society among different cultural regions and nations around the globe, which may relate to the historic relationship between civic society and of the state, such as sharp contrasts evident between Nordic societies and ex-Soviet states. Kees Aarts, for instance, reported trendless fluctuations in levels of membership in traditional organizations in Western Europe from the 1950s to the 1990s[16] . Historical case studies in particular nations have generally found a complicated pattern, for example Peter Hall examined trends in a wide array of indicators of social capital in Britain[17] . Membership in voluntary associations, he concluded, has been roughly stable since the 1950s, rising in the 1960s, and subsiding only modestly since then. While churches have faded in popularity in recent decades, environmental organizations and charities have expanded, so that overall the voluntary sector in Britain remains rich and vibrant. Case studies in Sweden, Japan and Australia confirm similar complex trends[18] . An emerging array of studies of social capital in post-Communist and developing societies also belie the existence of any simple linkages among social networks and trust, human development, and good governance[19] . Therefore although it seems clear that secularization has occurred in most affluent countries, it remains unclear from the literature whether this process has contributed to an erosion of faith-based organizations, such as church-related charities, social networks and youth clubs, as might well be expected; and it remains unclear whether the decline in churchgoing has brought declining membership in community associations and engagement in civic affairs more broadly, as many observers fear.  

Comparing Associational Membership

To examine these issues, we will analyze systematic evidence concerning a set of testable hypothesis. According to social capital theory, religious participation (defined as regular attendance at services of worship) is predicted to affect:

i.  Membership in related religious organizations, exemplified by faith-based welfare groups, where we expect the effects of religious participation to be strongest and most direct;

ii.  Belonging to a broader range of non-religious voluntary organizations and community associations, for example those concerned with the educational and cultural groups, sports clubs and trade unions; and lastly,

iii.  Civic engagement more generally, including social attitudes and political behavior, where we hypothesize that religious participation will probably have only a weaker and more indirect impact.

We will also examine the impact of intervening variables that could influence this relationship. In particular we will determine whether the linkage between religious participation and these factors varies among different faiths, for example between more ‘horizontal’ and egalitarian organization typical of Protestant churches and the more ‘hierarchical’ organization evident in the Catholic Church, as well as among different types of rich and poor society. We will examine both the structural and cultural dimensions of social capital--that is, the strength of social networks (measured by belonging to a wide range of associational groups), and the strength of cultural norms (gauged by feelings of social trust). And since social capital is a relational phenomenon, found in the bonds between neighbors, work colleagues, and friends, any linkages between religious participation, voluntary associations, and civic engagement will be explored at both individual and societal-levels.

The empirical analysis focuses on two waves of the World Value Survey (WVS) in the early-1990s and in 1999-2001 that carried identical measures of associational membership, as follows:[20]  

“Please look carefully at the following list of voluntary organizations and activities and say... a) Which, if any, do you belong to? b) Which, if any, are you currently doing unpaid voluntary work for?”

The survey lists fifteen types of social groups, including church or religious organizations, sports or recreational organizations, political parties, art, music or educational organizations, labor unions, professional associations, health-related, charitable organizations, environmental organizations, and any other voluntary organization. The diverse range therefore includes traditional interest groups and mainstream civic associations, as well as some new social movements.  

Levels of human and political development, as well as patterns of age, gender, education, and income are often systematically associated with participation in religious services, as well as with membership in community associations and levels of civic engagement. The analysis therefore uses multivariate regression models analyzing the impact of religious participation with prior controls for levels of human and political development, as well as for the standard factors commonly linked to civic participation at individual level, such as education, income, gender and age. Denominational differences may also matter; Robert Wuthnow has noted that in the United States, membership in mainline Protestant congregations generates the kinds of social networks, norms and relationships that help individuals and communities attain important goals, encouraging volunteering, civic engagement and political participation--but that membership in evangelical churches does not have these effects. He suggests that social capital in America may have fallen due to the demographic shrinkage of mainline Protestant congregations since the 1960s, in contrast with the rapid growth of Baptist churches and evangelicals such as Pentecostals, fuelled by trends in population and immigration.[21] Levels of societal development are also relevant; we have already observed that religiosity is far stronger in poorer developing nations than in affluent societies. Nevertheless, associational membership is expected to be relatively widespread in postindustrial democracies, where parties, trade unions, professional associations and other related organizations are well established among the professional middle classes in civil society. For these reasons, we also examine whether religious participation causes significant differences associated with the type of religious faith and the type of society.

(i) Explaining membership in religious organizations

We will examine the impact of religious participation on belonging to church or religious-based voluntary associations, with the latter measured as a dummy variable. We hypothesize that attending religious services will be closely related to membership in other church groups, typified by congregations volunteering to help with Protestant Sunday schools, Jewish charities, or Catholic youth programs. The results of the multivariate logistic regression model in Table 1 confirm that membership in religious organizations rose with levels of human and political development; the growth of affluence, education, and leisure time, as well as the spread of civic society with democratization, boost membership in church-related associations, as well as belonging to many other interest groups and new social movements. Individual membership also rises with age and income levels, characteristics that have been found to be associated with civic engagement in many studies. But gender proves to be insignificant; the stronger religiosity of women appears to counterbalance the greater propensity of men to join most kinds of organizations[22] . Education also proves to have a negative impact, contrary to the usual pattern of participation; this suggests that faith-based organizations provide an important channel of community engagement for those who are religious but have lower educational levels. Even after this battery of controls has been applied, regular attendance at churches, mosques, temples and synagogues shows a significant impact on membership in religious organizations, such as volunteering to help run faith-based charities, soup kitchens, and social clubs. Among those who attended a service of worship at least weekly, one third belonged to a religious or church-related association, compared with only 4% of those who did not attend regularly. This pattern was found with every type of faith except Orthodox (which was negatively associated with belonging to religious organizations) and Islamic (with a positive but insignificant relationship, which reflects the limited number of cases from Muslim states). The relationship was strongest for Protestants and Hindus, where about one in four people belonged to a religious organization, followed by those of Jewish faith. Atheists, as expected, had lower than average involvement in religious organizations.

==============================================

 Table 1: Explaining membership in religious organizations

 

 

Membership in religious organizations

 

B

St. Err.

 

Sig

Developmental controls

 

 

 

 

Level of human development (100-point scale)

1.057

.1.42

 

***

Level of political development

.309

.015

 

***

Social controls

 

 

 

 

Age (Years)

.002

.001

 

**

Gender (Male=1)

.028

.028

 

N/s

Education (3 categories low to hi)

-.058

.019

 

***

Income (10 categories low to hi)

.076

.005

 

***

Religious participation and type of faith

 

 

 

 

Religious participation

.342

.008

 

***

Protestant

1.945

.128

 

***

Catholic 

.331

.129

 

***

Orthodox 

-.1.22

.172

 

***

Muslim

.065

.135

 

N/s

Jewish

1.409

.250

 

***

Hindu

1.790

.191

 

***

Buddhist

.605

.166

 

***

None/Atheist

-.1.013

.140

 

***

(Constant)

-6.519

 

 

 

% Correctly predicted

85

 

 

 

Nagelkerke R2    

.356

 

 

 

Note: The table presents the results of a logistic regression model where membership in a religious organization is the dependent variable. The figures represent the unstandardized beta (B), the standard error (s.e.) and the significance of the coefficient (Sig). ***P..001 **.01 *.05 N/s Not significant.

Religious participation: Q185 “Apart from weddings, funerals and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days? More than once a week, once a week, once a month, only on special holy days, once a year, less often, never or practically never.”

Membership in religious organization: “Please look carefully at the following list of voluntary organizations and activities and say... a) Which, if any, do you belong to? A religious or church-related organization (Coded 0/1)

Religious faith: ‘Do you belong to a religious denomination?’ If yes, ‘Which one?’ If ‘No’ coded None/atheist (0). Measured at individual level.

Source: World Values Survey Wave IV 1999-2001

==============================================

(ii) Explaining membership in non-religious organizations

Confirmation that church attendance is linked with belonging to faith-based associations is far from surprising. If this were all that it claimed, Putnam’s theory would be trivial. Putnam’s social capital theory, however, makes a less obvious and more interesting claim: that civic society is denser and stronger if people belong to multiple overlapping categories, such as professional and philanthropic groups, or unions and environmental organizations, so that church-attendance strengthens other over-lapping linkages within the community. ‘Bridging’ forms of social capital, which span different social sectors and ideological viewpoints, are strengthened by multiple memberships. Do religious institutions have the power to influence broader engagement in community life? To test this claim, we will compare the average number of non-religious community associations that people joined, using a 14-point scale summarizing membership in all the organizations listed in Table 3 except the religious or church-related category. Overall about half (50%) the public reported belonging to no voluntary associations, one quarter (24%) belonged to just one type of organization, while the remaining quarter of the public were members of more than one type of groups[23] .

==============================================

 Table 2: Explaining membership in non-religious voluntary organizations

 

Belong to how many non-religious organizations (Vol-org)

 

B

St. Err.

Beta

Sig

Developmental controls

 

 

 

 

Level of human development (100-point scale)

.070

.067

.007

N/s

Level of political development

.093

.005

.115

***

Social controls

 

 

 

 

Age (Years)

.000

.000

-.001

N/s

Gender (Male=1)

.107

.012

.037

***

Education (3 categories low to hi)

.178

.009

.093

***

Income (10 categories low to hi)

.067

.002

.119

***

Religious participation and type of faith

 

 

 

 

Religious participation

.041

.003

.063

***

Protestant

.111

.030

.029

***

Catholic 

-.365

.044

-.112

***

Orthodox 

-.815

.031

-.107

***

Muslim

-.446

.142

-.125

***

Jewish

.783

.096

.024

***

Hindu

.536

.062

.025

***

Buddhist

.256

.013

.019

***

None/Atheist

-.102

.028

-.029

***

(Constant)

-.396

 

 

 

Adjusted R2    

.082

 

 

 

Note: The table uses OLS regression analysis where the number of memberships of all non-religious organization is the dependent variable in the most recent wave of the WVS. The figures represent the unstandardized beta (B), the standard error (s.e.), the standardized beta  (Beta), and the significance of the coefficient (Sig). ***P..001 **.01 *.05 N/s Not significant.

Vol-Any: Percentage belonging to at least one non-religious association.  

Religious participation: Q185 “Apart from weddings, funerals and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days? More than once a week, once a week, once a month, only on special holy days, once a year, less often, never or practically never.”

Associational membership: “Please look carefully at the following list of voluntary organizations and activities and say... a) Which, if any, do you belong to? (Each coded 0/1 and summed into as 0-14 scale excluding belonging to a religious association) For the list of organizations see Table 3.

Source: World Values Survey Wave IV 1999-2001

==============================================

Table 2 analyzes factors predicting membership in voluntary organizations and community associations. Once again, levels of political development are positively linked with associational membership; as many have observed, the growth of political rights and civic liberties, associated with the process of democratization, expands opportunities for participation in grassroots civil society. Human development is also positively related, although in this case the relationship proved insignificant. At the individual level, higher education, higher income, and (male) gender were also associated with belonging to more groups, a finding already well established in the literature on political participation[24] . After applying these macro and micro-level controls, the results demonstrate that religious participation is positively associated with higher levels of membership in non-religious community associations. Members of congregations were more likely than average to belong to a diverse range of voluntary organizations, as social capital theory claims. But this pattern varied by types of faith; Protestants had significantly higher than average membership in these associations, as did those of Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist faith, whereas Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims and atheists belonged to fewer than average groups. As Wuthnow found in the United States, Protestant churches may encourage a greater sense of engagement with the wider community than Catholic churches, although they are not unique in this regard.

To analyze how activism varies by type of association, Table 3 uses logistic regression models, with societal and individual social controls, presenting just the regression coefficients for the effects of religious participation on belonging to each type of organization, as well as describing the average membership for those who do and do not attend services of worship at least weekly. The results show that regular church-attendance was most strongly associated with membership in associations concerned with the traditional philanthropic functions of religious institutions, including those for social welfare such as for the elderly or handicapped, educational and cultural groups, local community action groups on issues such as poverty, housing and racial equality, women’s groups, and youth work. For example, 15% of those who attended services weekly also volunteered for social welfare organizations, compared with 9% of those who did not attend church so regularly. About 9% of regular churchgoers also volunteered for youth work, almost twice as many as those who didn’t attend church so often. By contrast, churchgoing was only weakly related to other types of civic associations that are less closely related to the core philanthropic functions of religious institutions, such as membership in parties, professional associations, and sports clubs. The only organization that showed a negative relationship with churchgoing was membership in trade unions. The pattern confirms social capital theory’s claim that the social networks and personal communications derived from regular churchgoing play an important role, not just in promoting activism within religious-related organizations, but also in strengthening community associations more generally. By providing community meeting-places, linking neighbors together, and fostering altruism, in many (but not all) faiths, religious institutions seem to bolster the ties of belonging to civic life.

==============================================

 Table 3: Religious participation and associational membership

      

%  Attend service weekly

%
Don’t attend service weekly

B

s.e.

Sig

Religious or church related

33

4

.342

.008

***

Peace movement

5

2

.280

.011

***

Women’s groups

9

3

.200

.012

***

Youth work (e.g. scouts, guides, youth clubs)

9

5

.200

.011

***

Local community action on issues like poverty, employment, housing, racial equality

9

4

.141

.011

***

Social welfare services for the elderly, handicapped or deprived people

15

9

.134

.005

***

Third world development or human rights

5

3

.113

.013

***

Education, arts, music or cultural activities

18

13

.077

.004

***

Professional associations

12

10

.067

.005

***

Political parties or groups

12

10

.046

.005

***

Conservation, environment, or animal rights groups

10

8

.044

.005

***

Heath-related

8

4

.028

.009

**

Sports or recreation

20

20

.026

.004

***

Labor unions

13

20

-.112

.004

***

Notes: For details of the logistic regression models see f/n Table 1. The models control for levels of human and political development in each society, as well as for the effects of age, gender, education and income at individual-level.

Religious Participation: Q185 “Apart from weddings, funerals and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days? More than once a week, once a week, once a month, only on special holy days, once a year, less often, never or practically never.”
 
Associational membership: “Please look carefully at the following list of voluntary organizations and activities and say… (a) Which, if any, do you belong to?

Source: World Values Survey 1999-2001

==============================================

(iii) Explaining broader patterns of civic engagement

Social capital theory argues that associational membership is only one aspect of this phenomenon, and we also need to examine whether churchgoing and membership in church-related organizations influence broader social attitudes including social trust, social tolerance and confidence in government, as well as civic activism and willingness to engage in political protest. In this regard we also need to examine both individual-level and societal-level relationships; social capital is essentially a relational phenomenon that exists as a collective good within each community, rather than simply an individual resource. As such, even though there may be no relationship at individual level between religious participation and civic engagement, there could be an important one evident at aggregate level[25] .

 Interpersonal trust is one of the most important components of social capital, for it is believed to lubricate cooperation and coordination, allowing communities to work together spontaneously without the formal sanction of laws or the heavy hand of the state[26] . Social trust was measured in the 2001 WVS by the standard question: “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” This measure has several limitations. It offers a simple dichotomy, whereas most modern survey items today present more subtle continuous scales. The double negative in the latter half of the question may be confusing to respondents. No social context is presented to respondents, nor can they distinguish between different categories, such as relative levels of trust in friends, colleagues, family, strangers, or compatriots. Nevertheless this item has become accepted as the standard indicator of social or interpersonal trust, having been used in the Civic Culture Surveys and the American General Social Survey since the early 1970s, so it will be used here to facilitate replication with previous studies. The other measures of civic attitudes and behavior include the propensity to engage in political discussion and the expression of political interest, confidence in the major political institutions (government, parties, parliament and the civil service), voting participation, and actually having engaged in political protest, using the measures developed in the Political Action surveys, concerning signing a petition, supporting a consumer boycott, attending a lawful demonstration, and joining an unofficial strike.

==============================================

Table 4: The effects of religious participation on civic engagement

 

Religious participation

Belong to a religious association

 

B

s.e.

Sig

B

s.e.

Sig

CIVIC ATTITUDES

 

 

 

 

 

 

Political interest

-.032

.003

***

.119

.015

***

Political discussion

-.054

.004

***

-.056

.020

**

Social trust

-.003

.003

N/s

.083

.016

***

Social tolerance (i)

.002

.000

***

.032

.002

***

Institutional confidence (i)

.080

.004

***

.072

.017

**

Approve of democracy as an ideal

.272

.027

***

.848

.127

***

Approve of the performance of democracy

.138

.031

***

.485

.145

***

POLITICAL ACTIVISM

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voted

.114

.003

***

.072

.017

**

Have signed a petition

.018

.003

***

.399

.016

***

Have joined a boycott

-.010

.005

*

.291

.024

***

Have attended a lawful demonstration

-.044

.004

***

.029

.019

*

Have joined an unofficial strike

-.065

.007

***

.066

.033

*

Notes: All the models with dichotomous dependent variables use binary logistic regression, except for (i) with continuous scales, which use ordinary least squares regression. For details of the models see f/n Table 1. The models all control for levels of human and political development in each society, as well as for the effects of age, gender, education and income at individual-level.

Religious Participation: Q185 “Apart from weddings, funerals and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days? More than once a week, once a week, once a month, only on special holy days, once a year, less often, never or practically never.”

Belong to religious organization: “Please look carefully at the following list of voluntary organizations and activities and say... a) Which, if any, do you belong to? A religious or church-related organization (Coded 0/1)

Social trust: V25. “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted (1) or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people? (0)”

Political discussion: V32. “When you get together with your friends, would you say you discuss political matters frequently, occasionally or never?” (% ‘Frequently’ (1), else (0)).

Political interest: V133. “How interested would you say you are in politics?” (% ‘Very’/’somewhat interested’ (1), ‘Not very’/’Not at all’/’Don’t know’ (0).

Institutional confidence scale: Confidence in parliament, the national government, parties and the civil service, using a 16-point scale. 

Source: World Values Survey pooled 1981-2001

==============================================

Table 4 summarizes the relationship between religious participation, membership in a religious organization, and this range of indicators, after controlling for the macro and micro-level factors used in earlier models. The pattern is inconsistent. We find that church attendance is associated with significantly lower than average levels of political discussion and interest, with lower levels of social trust (the opposite direction to that predicted by social capital theory), and with less participation in some of the more radical forms of political protest. On the other hand, all these indicators show significant and positive linkages with membership in religious organizations, with only one exception (political discussion). That is, people who belong to religious organizations display relatively high levels of civic attitudes and behavior, whether it is confidence in major political institutions, voting participation, support for democracy, social tolerance and trust, political interest and propensity to sign petitions, engage in consumer boycotts.

Thus, different ways of measuring religious participation generate contrasting results. High rates of church attendance are negatively linked with civic activity, but high levels of membership in religiously affiliated organizations are positively linked with civic activity. Furthermore, the direction of causality is unclear; social capital theory suggests that because people interact face-to-face in church-related organizations, they learn to become more engaged in the social concerns and public affairs of their community. But the reverse causal process could equally well be at work--with people who are socially trusting ‘joiners’ being most likely to engage in civic activity and to belong to religious associations. At this point, we can only conclude that belonging to religious organizations does indeed go together with community engagement and democratic participation, as social capital theory suggests—but the direction of the causal linkage is not clear. Simply attending religious services definitely does not seem to be conducive to civic activity; the more demanding activity of joining religious-linked organizations, does; we suspect that the latter involves a reciprocal causal process. 

Conclusions

Social capital theory has generated considerable controversy in recent years, as economists, sociologists and political scientists have debated the claim that, just as the investment of economic capital is productive for manufacturing goods and services, so social capital encourages the production of private and public goods. The American literature has emphasized the function of religious institutions in the generation of social capital, in particular that mainline Protestant churches play a vital role in drawing together diverse groups of Americans within local communities, encouraging face-to-face contact, social ties and organizational networks that, in turn, generate interpersonal trust and collaboration over public affairs. The theory suggests that people who pray together often also stay together to work on local matters, thereby strengthening communities.

The evidence we have examined tends to confirm the first part of this theory’s core propositions--that religious participation (as measured by the frequency of attending worship services) is positively linked with membership in related religious organizations. Attendance at religious services is also positively linked with belonging to certain types of non-religious voluntary organizations and community associations. Finally, we also found that membership in religious organizations (but not attendance at religious services) was significantly associated with various indicators of civic engagement, including social attitudes and political behavior. The available database is inadequate to determine the causality in these associations, which requires panel surveys. But a process of mutually reinforcing reciprocal causation is probably underlying these relationships, whereby ‘joiners’ who are active in local sports clubs, arts associations, and youth work, as well as having a positive sense of political and social trust, also belong to religious organizations.

Accordingly, whatever the other significant consequences, given the limits of cross-sectional surveys we cannot either prove or disprove that the process of secularization has weakened social capital and civic engagement. But systematic evidence, presented elsewhere, suggests that the decline of traditional hierarchical associations in postindustrial societies, including churches as well as labor unions and political party organizations, has been at least partially offset by complex societal developments that have transformed the nature of political activism. These developments have encouraged alternative forms of political mobilization and expression, best exemplified by the rise of new social movements, the surge in political communications through the Internet, and the expansion of participation in protest politics through activities such as demonstrations, consumer boycotts, and petitions[27] . Given these important trends, the decline in churchgoing in rich nations has been significant in itself, but we remain agnostic whether this phenomenon has thereby contributed towards a decline in civic engagement.

Notes

* Pippa Norris is the McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Her work analyzes comparative elections and public opinion, gender politics, and political communications. Volumes by this author published by Cambridge University Press include A Virtuous Circle (2000), Digital Divide (2001), Democratic Phoenix (2002), Rising Tide (2003, with Inglehart), Electoral Engineering (2004), and Radical Right (2005).

Ronald Inglehart is professor of political science and program director at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. His research deals with changing belief systems and their impact on social and political change. He helped found the Euro-Barometer surveys and directs the World Values Surveys. Related books include Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic and Political Change in 43 Societies (1997), Rising Tide (with Norris, 2003), and Development, Cultural Change and Democracy (2004, with Christian Welzel).

This article is excerpted from chapter 8, "Religious Organizations and Social Capital," from Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart. Copyright 2004 by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart. Reprinted by permission. No reproduction may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

[1] Robert Wuthnow. 1999. ‘Mobilizing Civic Engagement: The Changing Impact of Religious Involvement.’ In Civic Engagement in American Democracy. Eds. Theda Skocpol and Morris P. Fiorina. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press; Robert Wuthnow. 2002. ‘Religious Involvement and Status-Bridging Social Capital.’ Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 41(4): 669-675; Robert Wuthnow and John H. Evans. Eds. 2002. The Quiet Hand of God. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

[2] Pierre Bourdieu. 1970. Reproduction in Education, Culture and Society. London: Sage; James S. Coleman. 1988. ‘Social capital in the creation of human capital.’ American Journal of Sociology 94: 95-120; James S. Coleman. 1990. Foundations of Social Theory. Cambridge: Belknap. For a discussion of the history of the concept, see also the introduction in Stephen Baron, John Field, and Tom Schuller. Eds. 2000. Social Capital: Critical Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[3] The seminal works are Robert D. Putnam. 1993. Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Robert D. Putnam. 1996. 'The Strange Disappearance of Civic America.' The American Prospect, 24; Robert D. Putnam. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. NY: Simon and Schuster. More recent comparative research is presented in Susan Pharr and Robert Putnam. Eds. 2000. Disaffected Democracies: What’s Troubling the Trilateral Countries? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Robert D. Putnam. Ed. 2002. Democracies in Flux. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[4] Robert D. Putnam. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. NY: Simon and Schuster. P.19. Putnam also offers a related definition: “By ‘social capital’ I mean features of social life--networks, norms and trust – that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives.” Robert D. Putnam. 1996. ‘Who Killed Civic Life.’ The American Prospect. P.56.

[5] Robert Putnam. 2000. Ibid. p290. For details see chapters 17-20.

[6] Robert D. Putnam. 2000. Ibid. P.66.

[7] Robert D. Putnam. 2000. Ibid. P.79.

[8] Robert D. Putnam. Ed. 2002. Democracies in Flux. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p.409

[9] Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman and Henry E. Brady. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Volunteerism in American Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. P.389.

[10] Steven J. Rosenstone and John Mark Hansen. 1995. Mobilization, Participation and Democracy in America. New York: Macmillan. See also C.A. Cassel. 1999. ‘Voluntary associations, churches and social participation theories of turnout.’ Social Science Quarterly. 80(3): 504-517.

[11] Robert Putnam. 2000. Op Cit. p.27.

[12] See Carl Everett Ladd. 1996. ‘The Data Just Don't Show Erosion of America's Social Capital.’ The Public Perspective 7(4); Theda Skopol. 1996. ‘Unravelling from Above.’ The American Prospect 25: 20-25; Michael Schudson. 1996. What if civic life didn’t die?’ The American Prospect 25: 17-20; Pippa Norris. 2000. A Virtuous Circle: Political Communications in Postindustrial Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 13; Pippa Norris. 2002. Democratic Phoenix: Political Activism Worldwide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 8.

[13] Thomas Rotolo. 1999. ‘Trends in voluntary association participation.’ Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 28(2): 199-212.

[14] Robert Wuthnow. 2002. ‘The United States: Bridging the privileged and the marginalized?’ In Democracies in Flux. Ed. Robert D. Putnam. Oxford: Oxford University Press

[15] For comparative work see Jan Willem Van Deth. Ed. 1997. Private Groups and Public Life: Social Participation, Voluntary Associations and Political Involvement in Representative Democracies. London: Routledge; Jan Willem van Deth and F. Kreuter. 1998. ‘Membership in Voluntary Associations.’ In Comparative Politics: The Problem of Equivalence. Ed. Jan W. van Deth, London: Routledge. Pp. 135-155; Jan van Deth 2000. ‘Interesting but irrelevant: Social capital and the saliency of politics in Western Europe.’ European Journal of Political Research. 37:115-147.

[16] Kees Aarts. 1995. ‘Intermediate organizations and interest representation.’ In Citizens and the State, Ed. Hans-Dieter Klingemann and Dieter Fuchs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[17] Peter Hall. 2000. ‘Social Capital in Britain’. In The Dynamics of Social Capital. Ed. Robert D. Putnam. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Peter Hall. 1999. ‘Social Capital in Britain.’ British Journal of Political Science. 29(3): 417-61. See also William L. Maloney, Graham Smith, and Gerry Stoker. 2000. ‘Social Capital and Associational Life.’ In Social Capital: Critical Perspectives. Eds. Stephen Baron, John Field, and Tom Schuller. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[18] See Bo Rothstein. 2000. ‘Social Capital in the Social Democratic State.’ In Democracies in Flux. Ed. Robert D. Putnam. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[19] Partha Dasgupta and Ismail Serageldin. Eds. 2000. Social Capital: A Multifaceted Perspective. The World Bank: Washington DC; Richard Rose. 2000. ‘Uses of social capital in Russia: Modern, pre-modern, and anti-modern.’ Post-Soviet Affairs. 16 (1): 33-57. See also Richard Rose, William Mishler, Christopher Haerpfer. 1997. ‘Social capital in civic and stressful societies.’ Studies in Comparative International Development. 32 (3): 85-111.

[20] Unfortunately the wording of the questions used to monitor membership and activism in voluntary associations varied over different waves of the WVS survey, as follows:

Wave I: Early 1980: “Please look carefully at the following list of voluntary organizations and activities and say which, if any, do you belong to?”

Wave II and IV: Early-1990 and 1999-2001: “Please look carefully at the following list of voluntary organizations and activities and say... a) which, if any, do you belong to? b) Which, if any, are you currently doing unpaid voluntary work for?”

Wave III: Mid-1990s: “Now I am going to read off a list of voluntary organizations; for each one, could you tell me whether you are an active member, an inactive member or not a member of that type of organization?”  

This makes it difficult to compare activism among all waves, although we can use the identical items carried in Wave II and IV. The questions on voluntary associations were also excluded from the last wave of the survey conducted in many Muslim nations.

[21] Robert Wuthnow. 1999. ‘Mobilizing Civic Engagement: The Changing Impact of Religious Involvement.’ In Civic Engagement in American Democracy. Eds. Theda Skocpol and Morris P. Fiorina. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press; Robert Wuthnow. 2002. ‘Religious Involvement and Status-Bridging Social Capital.’ Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 41(4): 669-675.

[22] For more details see Pippa Norris. 2003. ‘Gendering Social Capital? Bowling in Women’s Leagues?’ Conference on Gender and Social Capital, St. John’s College, University of Manitoba, 2-3 May 2003. See also Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris. 2003. Rising Tide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Gwen Moore. 1990. ‘Structural determinants of men’s and women’s personal networks.’ American Sociological Review 55: 726-35; J. McPherson and Lynn Smith-Lovin. 1982. ‘Women and weak ties: Differences by sex in the size of voluntary organizations.’ American Journal of Sociology. 87: 883-904.

[23] Variations among different sectors, and the reason why people join, are discussed in detailed elsewhere. See Pippa Norris. 2002. Democratic Phoenix: Reinventing Political Activism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 8.

[24] Sidney Verba, Norman Nie and Jae-on Kim. 1978. Participation and Political Equality: A Seven-Nation Comparison New York: Cambridge University Press; Sidney Verba, Kay Schlozman and Henry E. Brady. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[25] For a discussion see Kenneth Newton and Pippa Norris. 2000. ‘Confidence in Public Institutions: Faith, Culture or Performance?’ In Disaffected Democracies: What’s Troubling the Trilateral Countries? Eds. Susan Pharr and Robert Putnam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Kenneth Newton. 2001. ‘Trust, Social Capital, Civic Society, and Democracy.’ International Political Science Review 22(2): 201-214.

[26] Francis Fukuyama. 1995. Trust: The Social Virtuous and the Creation of Prosperity. New York: The Free Press.

[27] Pippa Norris. 2002. Democratic Phoenix. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

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