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Religion, a Bridge or Barrier in Society?

A research design for empirical analyses about the role of religiosity in social cohesion

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Part of the Veröffentlichungen der Sektion Religionssoziologie der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie book series (DGSRELIGION)

Abstract

Polarization and civil wars across the globe lead to a scientific resurgence of the timeless question of what holds societies together. To stimulate further empirical research about the role of religion in social cohesion from a global perspective, I develop a research design as a blueprint for subsequent studies. I examine the question of how the role of citizens’ religiosity in social cohesion can be empirically analyzed for countries worldwide. Social cohesion is understood as a multidimensional construct that manifests itself in socio-political relationships among citizens (horizontal level) and between citizens and the state (vertical level). The core dimensions include social/institutional trust, inclusive social/national identification, social/institutional responsibility and social/political engagement. Religiosity is conceptualized with three dimensions: believing (intensity/contents of faith), behaving (prayer/service attendance/involvement in religious organizations) and belonging (religious affiliation). I systematize the variables’ relationships in hypotheses and present Multilevel Analysis (MLA) as a suitable method for their empirical testing. MLA allows for global comparative studies, considering the underlying hierarchical data structure of individuals embedded in diverse societal and religious country contexts, which themselves may exert (direct/cross-level interaction) effects. Finally, I exemplarily operationalize the variables, including controls on both levels, using appropriate databases (World Values Survey, Fox’s State and Religion Project, etc.). This is intended to prepare theory-led empirical research in a field of high socio-political relevance.

Keywords

  • Social cohesion
  • Religion
  • Religiosity
  • Multilevel analysis
  • Cross-country comparative design
  • World values survey

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Fig. 1

Source: Own compilation based on Bertelsmann Stiftung (2018); Chan et al. (2006); Dragolov et al. (2016); Fox (2017); Pollack und Rosta (2017); Schnabel und Grötsch (2012, 2014); Traunmüller (2012a)

Notes

  1. 1.

    For complementing the framework with country- or culture-specific aspects in following studies, I suggest to dig deeper into indigenous sources from the respective contexts (see Bertelsmann Stiftung 2018 and Delhey et al. 2018 for Asia; Langer et al. 2017 and Hino et al. 2019 for Sub-Sahara-Africa; CEPAL 2010 and Manrique et al. 2015 for Latin America). Since the term social cohesion originated in the West, was introduced and disseminated by organizations such as the OECD, EU or World Bank (Delhey and Boehnke 2018, p. 36), further research would benefit from identifying similar, indigenous concepts, e.g., social harmony in Confucianism, Buen Vivir in Latin America or Ubuntu in Southern Africa.

  2. 2.

    Additional aggregation at the country level can still be done in further studies which, for instance, aim to compare the cohesion levels of countries or relate them to other macro variables.

  3. 3.

    All dimensions conceptualized in this chapter are to be understood as theoretical ideal types that are analytically distinguishable, while in reality the boundaries often blur. I do not claim to cover the complex phenomena in their entirety with these dimensions or to give universal definitions (which lies beyond this chapter’s scope).

  4. 4.

    From Glock and Stark’s (1968) classical five religious dimensions (ideological, ritualistic, intellectual, religious experience and consequences), I exclude the dimension of knowledge (because it does not necessarily indicate the depth of personal religiosity) and of ethical behaviors (because I analyze parts of them on the side of my dependent variable and investigate to what extent they are related to religiosity), and I add Boos-Nünning’s (1972) dimension of belonging (Pollack and Rosta 2017, p. 46 f.).

  5. 5.

    When applying the framework presented here in subsequent studies, I propose to calculate models separately for each cohesion subdimension in order to obtain differentiated results – and additionally for a cohesion index as an overview. In the following hypotheses, for reasons of space and readability, I no longer list the subdimensions individually, but the summarizing term ‘dimensions of social cohesion’ implies this differentiated proceeding.

  6. 6.

    In further studies, the religious context effects could be specifically theorized and examined in detail. They have gained little attention in cohesion research so far. This is, especially concerning state-religion-relations, due to a lack of adequate data, that has only recently been developed (Traunmüller 2012b). Previous results remain limited and ambivalent: For the European context, Pickel and Gladkich (2011) find positive correlations of secularization (aggregated service attendance) with social networks – and of Protestantism with social networks and social trust. Traunmüller (2012a) identifies a negative effect of secularization (aggregated importance of religion) on social networks – and a positive one of Protestantism on social trust. According to Schnabel and Grötsch (2012, 2014), a close state-religion relation and Protestantism increase societal trust. For Asian countries, Dragolov et al. (2018) state that religious diversity (Alesina et al. 2003) is positively related to the dimension of fairness perception (controlled for GDP) and to the cohesion index (under GDP control the effect turns insignificant).

  7. 7.

    There is no fixed convention on a minimum number of cases. Hox (2010, p. 235) gives the 30/30 rule (30 individuals/30 groups) – with modifications depending on the research foci, for example 50/20 when there is a strong interest in cross-level interactions and 100/10 when there is a strong interest in the random part. In research practice, however, MLAs are carried out even with smaller numbers (of about 20 or 30, e.g., for certain EU/OECD countries) (Schnabel and Grötsch 2012, 2014; Traunmüller 2012a).

  8. 8.

    Since the fractionalization indices of Alesina et al. (2003) are limited (especially to the year of 2003), other measures should be explored in subsequent studies – for ethnic diversity see, for example, the Historical Index of Ethnic Fractionalization (Drazanova 2019) and for religious diversity see the discussions in Pollack et al. (2012).

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Hillenbrand, C. (2020). Religion, a Bridge or Barrier in Society?. In: Demmrich, S., Riegel, U. (eds) Religiosity in East and West. Veröffentlichungen der Sektion Religionssoziologie der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie. Springer VS, Wiesbaden. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-31035-6_2

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