Previous research has suggested that religious belief is associated with a range of prosocial behaviors such as social embeddedness and generosity. However, this literature has often conflated belief in God with group involvement and failed to control for demographic and social network effects. Rather than assessing prosociality by comparing religious group members with the unaffiliated, the present study also includes secular/nonreligious group members. Multiple regression analyses controlling for confounds diminishes many of the apparent differences between religious and nonreligious individuals. Belief in God itself accounts for approximately 1–2 % of the variance in social embeddedness domains and <1 % of the variance in the domains of outside-group charity and community volunteering. Belief in God is associated with homophily and parochial behavior such as within-group charitable donations and constrained contact with different others. These findings indicate that prosocial benefits are more related to general group membership equally available to religious and secular group members alike than they are to specifically religious content. Religious beliefs are related to within-group prosociality as well as homophily and parochialism directed to those outside the group.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Belief in God was defined with the item: “There is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good deity who created the known universe and guides all things” rather than the more commonly-used “importance of religion” type item because the former measures solely belief whereas the latter is confounded with subjective importance. That is, for many seculars, belief in deities is indeed important, but not because they personally endorse these beliefs. In this context, equating disbelief in God with a “not at all” response to “religion is important to me” would be akin to equating a “conservative” with “low importance of liberalism”.
Baumeister, R. F., Bauer, I. M., & Lloyd, S. A. (2010). Choice, free will, and religion. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2, 67–82. doi:10.1037/a0018455.
Bekkers, R., & Wiepking, P. (2007). Generosity and philanthropy: A literature review. Rochester. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1015507.
Berggren, N., & Bjørnskov, C. (2011). Is the importance of religion in daily life related to social trust? Cross-country and cross-state comparisons. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 80, 459–480. doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2011.05.002.
Beyerlein, K., & Hipp, J. R. (2006). From pews to participation: The effect of congregation activity and context on bridging civic engagement. Social Problems, 53, 97–117. doi:10.1525/sp.2006.53.1.97.
Blogowska, J., Lambert, C., & Saroglou, V. (2013). Religious prosociality and aggression: It’s real. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 52, 524–536. doi:10.1111/jssr.12048.
Blogowska, J., & Saroglou, V. (2011). Religious fundamentalism and limited prosociality as a function of the target. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 50, 44–60. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5906.2010.01551.x.
Bloom, P. (2012). Religion, morality, evolution. Annual Review of Psychology, 63, 179–199. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100334.
Bock, D. C., & Warren, N. C. (1972). Religious belief as a factor in obedience to destructive demands. Review of Religious Research, 13, 185–191. doi:10.2307/3510781.
Brooks, A. C. (2006). Who really cares: The surprising truth about compassionate conservatism. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Campbell, D. E., & Yonish, S. J. (2003). Religion and volunteering in America. In C. Smidt (Ed.), Religion as social capital: Producing the common good (pp. 87–106). Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.
Center on Wealth and Philanthropy. (2007). Geography and giving: The culture of philanthropy in New England and the nation. Boston, MA: Boston Foundation. http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/research_sites/cwp/pdf/geoandgiving2007.pdf.
Cheadle, J. E., & Schwadel, P. (2012). The ‘friendship dynamics of religion’, or the ‘religious dynamics of friendship’? A social network analysis of adolescents who attend small schools. Social Science Research, 41, 1198–1212. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.03.014.
Choi, N. G., & DiNittio, D. M. (2012). Predictors of time volunteering, religious giving, and secular giving: Implications for nonprofit organizations. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 39, 93–120.
Cornwall, M. (1987). The social bases of religion: A study of factors influencing religious belief and commitment. Review of Religious Research, 29, 44–56.
Donelson, E. (1999). Psychology of religion and adolescents in the United States: Past to present. Journal of Adolescence, 22, 187–204. doi:10.1006/jado.1999.0212.
Driskell, R. L., Lyon, L., & Embry, E. (2008). Civic engagement and religious activities: Examining the influence of religious tradition and participation. Sociological Spectrum, 28, 578–601. doi:10.1080/02732170802206229.
Ellison, C. G., & George, L. K. (1994). Religious involvement, social ties, and social support in a southeastern community. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 33, 46–61. doi:10.2307/1386636.
Fitzgerald, C. J., & Wickwire, J. H. (2012). Religion and political affiliation’s influence on trust and reciprocity among strangers. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 6, 158–180.
Galef, J. (2010). Fall brings record numbers of atheist, agnostic student organizations on campus. http://www.secularstudents.org/recordnumbergroups2010.
Galen, L. W. (2012). Does religious belief promote prosociality? A critical examination. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 876–906. doi:10.1037/a0028251.
Galen, L. W., & Kloet, J. (2011). Personality and social integration factors distinguishing non-religious from religious groups: The importance of controlling for attendance and demographics. Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 33, 205–228. doi:10.1163/157361211X570047.
Gebauer, J. E., Paulhus, D. L., & Neberich, W. (2013). Big two personality and religiosity across cultures: Communals as religious conformists and agentics as religious contrarians. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4, 21–30.
George, L. K., Ellison, C. G., & Larson, D. B. (2002). Explaining the relationships between religious involvement and health. Psychological Inquiry, 13, 190–200. doi:10.1207/S15327965PLI1303_04.
Good, M., Willoughby, T., & Fritjers, J. (2009). Just another club? The distinctiveness of the relation between religious service attendance and adolescent psychosocial adjustment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 1153–1171. doi:10.1007/s10964-008-9320-9.
Graham, J., & Haidt, J. (2010). Beyond beliefs: Religions bind individuals into moral communities. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14, 140–150. doi:10.1177/1088868309353415.
Greenfield, E. A., & Marks, N. F. (2007). Religious social identity as an explanatory factor for associations between more frequent formal religious participation and psychological well-being. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 17, 245–259. doi:10.1080/10508610701402309.
Hempel, L. M., Matthews, T., & Bartkowski, J. (2012). Trust in a “fallen world”: The case of Protestant theological conservatism. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 51, 522–541. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5906.2012.01662.x.
Hunsberger, B. E., & Altemeyer, R. A. (2006). Atheists: A groundbreaking study of America’s nonbelievers. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.
Hunsberger, B., & Platonow, E. (1986). Religion and helping charitable causes. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 120, 517–528. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/617397811?accountid=39473.
Jackson, E. F., Bachmeier, M. D., Wood, J. R., & Craft, E. A. (1995). Volunteering and charitable giving: Do religious and associated ties promote helping behaviors? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 24, 59–78. doi:10.1177/089976409502400108.
Johnson, M. K., Rowatt, W. C., & LaBouff, J. (2010). Priming Christian religious concepts increases racial prejudice. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1, 119–126. doi:10.1177/1948550609357246.
Kim, Y. I., & Wilcox, W. B. (2013). Bonding alone: Familism, religion, and secular civic participation. Social Science Research, 42, 31–45. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.08.001.
Kosmin, B. A., Keysar, A., Cragun, R. T., & Navarro-Rivera, J. (2009). American nones: The profile of the no religion population. Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture.
LaBouff, J., Rowatt, W. C., Johnson, M. K., & Finkle, C. (2012). Differences in attitudes towards outgroups in a religious or non-religious context in a multi-national sample: A situational context priming study. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 22, 1–9. doi:10.1080/10508619.2012.634778.
Lam, P. (2002). As the flocks gather: How religion affects voluntary association participation. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, 405–422. doi:10.1111/1468-5906.00127.
Lewis, V. A., MacGregor, C. A., & Putnam, R. D. (2013). Religion, networks, and neighborliness: The impact of religious social networks on civic engagement. Social Science Research, 42, 331–346. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.09.011.
Lim, C., & Putnam, R. D. (2010). Religion, social networks, and life satisfaction. American Sociological Review, 75, 914–933. doi:10.1177/0003122410386686.
Lincoln, R., Morrissey, C. A., & Mundey, P. (2008). Religious giving: A literature review. http://generosityresearch.nd.edu/assets/20447/religious_giving_final.pdf.
Manning, L. (2010). Gender and religious differences associated with volunteering in later life. Journal of Women and Aging, 22, 125–135. doi:10.1080/08952841003719224.
McCullough, M. E., Hoyt, W. T., Larson, D. B., Koenig, H. G., & Thoresen, C. (2000). Religious involvement and mortality: A metaanalytic review. Health Psychology, 19, 211–222. doi:10.1037/0278-6126.96.36.199.
McCullough, M. E., & Willoughby, B. L. B. (2009). Religion, self-regulation, and self-control: Associations, explanations, and implications. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 69–93. doi:10.1037/a0014213.
McKitrick, M. A., Landres, J. S., Ottoni-Wilhelm, M., & Hayat, A. D. (2013). Connected to give: Faith communities. Jumpstart Labs: Key findings from the national study of American religious giving.
Mochon, D., Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. (2011). Who benefits from religion? Social Indicators Research, 101, 1–15. doi:10.1007/s11205-010-9637-0.
Monsma, S. V. (2007). Religion and philanthropic giving and volunteerism: Building blocks for civic responsibility. Interdisciplinary Journal of Religious Research, 3, 2–28.
Myers, D. G. (2000). The funds, friends, and faith of happy people. American Psychologist, 55, 56–67. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.56.
Myers, D. G. (2008). A friendly letter to skeptics and atheists: Musings on why God is good and faith isn’t evil. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Oliner, S. P., & Oliner, P. M. (1988). The altruistic personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. New York, NY: Free Press.
Park, J. Z., & Smith, C. (2000). “To whom much has been given…”: Religious capital and community voluntarism among churchgoing Protestants. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 39, 272–286. doi:10.1111/0021-8294.00023.
Pasquale, F. L. (2012). A portrait of secular group affiliates. In P. Zuckerman (Ed.), Atheism and secularity (pp. 43–87). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Pelham, B., & Crabtree, S. (20088). Worldwide, highly religious more likely to help others. http://www.gallup.com/poll/111013/worldwide-highly-religious-more-likely-help-others.aspx.
Pepper, M., Jackson, T., & Uzzell, D. (2010). A study of multidimensional religion constructs and values in the United Kingdom. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 49, 127–146. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5906.2009.01496.x.
Pew Research Center. (2008). The Pew Forum on religion and public life: U.S. religious landscape survey. http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf.
Pew Research Center. (2012). “Nones” on the rise: One-in-five adults have no religious affiliation. http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Unaffiliated/NonesOnTheRise-full.pdf.
Piper, G., & Schnepf, S. V. (2008). Gender differences in charitable giving in Great Britain. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 19, 103–124. doi:10.1007/s11266-008-9057-9.
Preston, J. L., Ritter, R. S., & Hernandez, J. I. (2010). Principles of religious prosociality: A review and reformulation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 574–590. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00286.x.
Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Putnam, R. D., & Campbell, D. E. (2010). American grace: How religion divides and unites us. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Regnerus, M. D. (2003). Religion and positive adolescent outcomes: A review of research and theory. Review of Religious Research, 44, 394–413. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3512217.
Reitsma, J., Scheepers, P., & te Grotenhuis, M. (2006). Dimensions of individual religiosity and charity: Cross-national effect differences in European countries? Review of Religious Research, 47, 347–362.
Rhodes, J. (2012). The ties that divide: Bonding social capital, religious friendship networks, and political tolerance among evangelicals. Sociological Inquiry, 82, 163–186. doi:10.1111/j.1475-682X.2012.00409.x.
Russell, D., & Cutrona, C. E. (1984). The provisions of social relationships and adaptation to stress. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Salsman, J. M., Brown, T. L., Brechting, E. H., & Carlson, C. R. (2005). The link between religion and spirituality and psychological adjustment: The mediating role of optimism and social support. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 522–535. doi:10.1177/0146167204271563.
Saroglou, V. (2006). Religion’s role in prosocial behavior: Myth or reality? Psychology of Religion Newsletter, 31, 1–8.
Saroglou, V. (2012). Is religion not prosocial at all? Comment on Galen (2012). Psychological Bulletin, 138, 907–912. doi:10.1037/a0028927.
Saroglou, V., Delpierre, V., & Dernelle, R. (2004). Values and religiosity: A meta-analysis of studies using Schwartz’s model. Personality and Individual Differences, 37, 721–734. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2003.10.005.
Schoenfeld, E. (1978). Image of man: The effect of religion on trust. Review of Religious Research, 20, 61–67.
Schwartz, S. H., & Huismans, S. (1995). Value priorities and religiosity in four Western religions. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58, 88–107. doi:10.2307/2787148.
Shor, E., & Roelfs, D. J. (2013). The longevity effects of religious and nonreligious participation: A meta-analysis and meta-regression. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 52, 120–145. doi:10.1111/jssr.12006.
Smith, J. M. (2013). Creating a Godless community: The collective identity work of contemporary American atheists. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 52, 80–99. doi:10.1111/jssr.12009.
Smith, B. G., & Stark, R. (2009). Religious attendance relates to generosity worldwide. http://www.gallup.com/poll/122807/Religious-Attendance-Relates-Generosity-Worldwide.aspx.
Son, J., & Wilson, J. (2012). Using normative theory to explain the effect of religion and education on volunteering. Sociological Perspectives, 55(3), 473–499. doi:10.1525/sop.2012.55.3.473.
Stark, R., & Maier, J. (2008). Faith and happiness. Review of Religious Research, 50, 120–125.
Stroope, S. (2011). How culture shapes community: Bible belief, theological unity, and a sense of belonging in religious congregations. The Sociological Quarterly, 52(4), 568–592. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2011.01220.x.
Tan, J. H. W., & Vogel, C. (2008). Religion and trust: An experimental study. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29, 832–848. doi:10.1016/j.joep.2008.03.002.
Taniguchi, H., & Thomas, L. D. (2011). The influences of religious attitudes on volunteering. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 22, 335–355. doi:10.1007/s11266-010-9158-0.
Uslaner, E. M. (2001). Volunteering and social capital: How trust and religion shape civic participation in the United States. In P. Dekker & E. M. Uslaner (Eds.), Social capital and participation in everyday life (pp. 104–117). London: Routledge.
Wang, L., & Graddy, E. (2008). Social capital, volunteering, and charitable giving. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 19, 23–42.
Yeary, K., Ounpraseuth, S., Moore, P., Bursac, Z., & Greene, P. (2012). Religion, social capital, and health. Review of Religious Research, 54, 331–347. doi:10.1007/s13644-011-0048-8.
Yen, S. T. (2002). An econometric analysis of household donations in the USA. Applied Economics Letters, 9, 837–841. doi:10.1080/13504850210148189.
About this article
Cite this article
Galen, L.W., Sharp, M. & McNulty, A. Nonreligious Group Factors Versus Religious Belief in the Prediction of Prosociality. Soc Indic Res 122, 411–432 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-014-0700-0