Overview

The opportunity and challenge of faith-based civic engagement.

The opportunity and challenge of diversity

Community connectedness linked to happiness and vibrant communities

Dimensions of social capital

Variation between communities/community analysis

Survey design, methodology, and other housekeeping details

Raw data available from Roper Center

Table 1
Communities Surveyed, Geography of Area, and Sample Size

Table 2
Effective Sample Sizes and 95% Confidence Intervals for Percentage Estimates

Legend



NOTE: THIS REPORT CONTAINS PRELIMINARY RESULTS (2001) OF BENCHMARK SURVEY. ACTIVE RESEARCH ON ALL ASPECTS OF THIS SURVEY ARE CONTINUING AND THESE RESULTS SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED CONCLUSIVE. CONCLUSIVE RESULTS WILL BE REPORTED HERE WHEN THEY BECOME AVAILABLE.

The opportunity and challenge of faith-based civic engagement.

Religious involvement is an important dimension of civic life in most American communities. This is especially true in the South and Midwest. (As rough rule of thumb, religiosity declines with distance from the Mississippi River.)

Moreover, at a time when the nation is actively discussing President Bush's new Office of Faith Based Programs, these data are particularly relevant. However, as we noted in Better Together, "For all that faith organizations contribute to community life, organized religion is and always has been controversial, especially when it spills out from behind the church doors and into the public sphere. Religion can heal divisions, to be sure, but it can also exacerbate them. Religious exhortations can reduce tensions, but also increase them." It is against this backdrop that the survey casts light.

Even without the new Bush administration's push, American faith-based participation and affiliation is widespread. Eighty eight percent of the national respondents reported some religious affiliation and 84% of national sample agreed somewhat or agreed strongly that religion was very important in their lives. Lower levels of respondents were actually members: 58% of national sample were members of a local church, synagogue or other religious or spiritual community. Some forty five percent of national respondents reported religious almost weekly or more frequently.

Throughout, blacks showed greater religiosity than whites [4] ; hispanics showed greater religious affiliation and church attendance than whites but lower levels of membership and lower levels of participation in religious activities outside of services. Ninety one percent of blacks and 93% of hispanics reported religious affiliation versus 88% of whites. Fifty one percent of blacks attended religious services almost weekly or more often vs. 48% of hispanics and 43% of whites. Sixty four percent of blacks in the national sample were members of religious communities vs. 59% of whites and 43% of hispanics. Forty seven percent of blacks participated in religious activities other than religious services as compared to 41% of whites and 31% of hispanics.

The survey found big differences by age with respect to religion. Younger respondents (18-34 years of age) were far less likely to be Protestants than respondents older than they were, and far more likely to be everything else (including expressing no religious affiliation).

National Social Capital Survey Respondents Ages 18-34 Ages 35-49 Ages 50-64 Ages 65+
Protestant
34%
47%
56%
64%
Catholic
29%
26%
22%
25%
Other Christian
14%
12%
8%
5%
Other religion
5%
4%
5%
2%
No religious preference
18%
11%
9%
4%
100%
100%
100%
100%

Younger respondents were also far less likely to be frequent attenders than older respondents: only 34% of respondents aged 18-34 attended religious services almost weekly or more often vs. 59% of respondents 65 and older.

What is the impact of this religious engagement? Involvement in communities of faith among all goers collectively is strongly associated with giving and volunteering. Indeed, involvement in religious community is among the strongest predictors of giving and volunteering for religious causes as well as for secular ones. Religious communities embody one of the most important sources of social capital and concern for community in America. Religious people are great at "doing for."

Moreover, religious involvement is positively associated with most other forms of civic involvement. Even holding other factors constant (comparing people of comparable educational levels, comparable income, and so on), religiously engaged people are more likely than religiously disengaged people to be involved in civic groups of all sorts, to vote more, to be more active in community affairs, to give blood, to trust other people (from shopkeepers to neighbors), to know the names of public officials, to socialize with friends and neighbors, and even simply to have a wider circle of friends. Interestingly as well, Americans are more likely to fully trust people at their place of worship (71%) than they are to trust people they work with (52%), people in their neighborhood (47%) or people of their own race (31%).

Another distinctive feature of religious involvement is that it is less biased by social standing than most other forms of civic involvement. Poorer, less educated Americans are much less likely to be involved in community life than other Americans, but they are fully as engaged in religious communities. Conversely, religiously engaged people have, on average, a more diverse set of friends than those who are less engaged in religion. Holding constant their own social status, religiously engaged people are more likely than other Americans to number among their friends a person of a different faith, a community leader, a manual worker, a business owner, and even a welfare recipient.

For all these reasons, faith-based community involvement holds much promise. However, our survey suggests that religiously observant Americans today tend to be more conservative politically than their secular neighbors. Whether their views stem from their conservatism or their religiosity, our survey suggests, as earlier research has as well, that intense involvement in communities of faith is more likely to be associated with intolerance: i.e., favoring banning unpopular books from libraries, antipathy to equal rights for immigrants, lower levels of support for racial intermarriage and lower levels of friendships with gays. Religious involvement is linked to greater support for needy individuals, but it is not necessarily associated with greater support for social justice. The "social capital" embodied in religious communities is more likely to "bond" individuals with those like them than to "bridge" them to those unlike them. Communities of high religiosity are generous in their giving and volunteering, but they are relatively low on measures of social action (marches, petitions, rallies) and relatively low on tolerance (for immigrants, gays, unpopular ideas in general). So from a civic perspective, the special challenge associated with faith-based civic engagement is to encourage greater tolerance for minority viewpoints and greater sensitivity to imperatives of social reform. However, our survey shows that faith-based communities have some matchless strengths as sources of civic engagement

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