Nonreligious Group Factors Versus Religious Belief in the Prediction of Prosociality

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    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”.

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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

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Keywords

  • Religion
  • Secular
  • Prosocial
  • Charity
  • Ingroup