Getting pious with a little help from our friends

February 01, 2012

Friendships forged at church seem to play a major role in people's religious activities and beliefs -- even when it comes to their views about how exclusive heaven is, according to a national study by a Baylor University sociology researcher.

"Although church-based friendship networks seem to bolster religiosity across the board, the effect of how enmeshed people are in congregational friendships is stronger on religious behavior than on beliefs. This makes sense -- church-goers may not necessarily chat about the finer points of theological beliefs, such as the existence of demons, but they do seem to talk about things like prayer requests or upcoming church events, things that more directly lead to an effect on religious behavior," said Samuel Stroope, a doctoral candidate at Baylor. "Also, friends at church can see behavior. Beliefs are harder to monitor."

He wrote an article that was published online in the journal Sociology of Religion and will appear in print in the summer issue. It may be viewed at: http://socrel.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/10/31/socrel.srr052.full.pdf+html

Stroope analyzed data from the Baylor Religion Survey, a random survey of more than 1,600 adults nationwide. The survey asked questions on topics ranging from belief in the supernatural to social and political attitudes. The survey, designed by Baylor scholars, was conducted by The Gallup Organization.

To tap people's immersion in friendships at church, the survey asked, "What proportion of your friends attend your place of worship?" Responses included "none" (32 percent), "a few" (42 percent), "about half" (12 percent) "most" (13 percent) and "all" (2 percent). Participants also were questioned about their religious behaviors and beliefs. Stroope limited his analysis to American Christians who ever go to church. His study was the first to test the relationship between congregational friendship networks and a variety of religiosity indicators using a national sample of both.

Stroope found that the larger the proportion of friends a person has in his or her congregation, the more likely that the individual will be active in their religious behaviors. The study looked at two broad categories of religious behaviors. First, church activities were defined as activities such as choir participation, worship service attendance, Sunday school participation, going to church social events and doing church-related volunteer work. Second, devotional activities were defined as activities such as frequency of prayer, Bible reading, taking part in a Bible study and frequency of sharing faith with others.

The study uncovered variations by religious tradition. Although having more church friends was always linked to more participation in religious activities, there were differences between Catholics and Protestants but not differences among Protestant traditions such as evangelical and mainline Protestants. Stroope found that the effect of congregational friends on religious activities was weaker for Catholics than for Protestants.

"In other words, Catholic congregations received diminishing participation returns for the congregational friendships of their members in comparison to Protestant congregations," Stroope said.

He suggested that this pattern may in part reflect the fact that the contents of Protestant and Catholic congregational social networks have different norms. For example:The study also found a weaker but consistent link between church friends and various religious beliefs. People with no friends at church held fewer supernatural beliefs than people who reported that some or more of their friends attended their church. Having some as opposed to no friends at church was the important cutting point associated with affirming a significantly greater number of supernatural beliefs. Meanwhile, when it came to the view of the Bible, drawing a greater proportion of one's friends from church was associated with increased odds of affirming that the Bible "should be taken literally, word for word on all subjects," Stroope said.

And "regardless of where you go to church--to a Catholic, evangelical Protestant or mainline Protestant congregation--if you have more friends there, then on average you're more likely to hold an exclusive view of heaven and believe that non-Christians are excluded from heaven," he said. The study specifically looked at whether respondents believe that Muslims, Buddhists and non-religious persons do not go to heaven.
-end-
Baylor scholars continue to analyze data from the first two waves of the Baylor Religion Survey, funded by Baylor and the John M. Templeton Foundation. The third wave received funding from the National Science Foundation. For more information on the survey, visit: http://www.baylor.edu/newsclips/index.php?id=85125

ABOUT BAYLOR

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, classified as such with "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions.

Baylor University

Related Behavior Articles from Brightsurf:

Variety in the migratory behavior of blackcaps
The birds have variable migration strategies.

Fishing for a theory of emergent behavior
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba quantified the collective action of small schools of fish using information theory.

How synaptic changes translate to behavior changes
Learning changes behavior by altering many connections between brain cells in a variety of ways all at the same time, according to a study of sea slugs recently published in JNeurosci.

I won't have what he's having: The brain and socially motivated behavior
Monkeys devalue rewards when they anticipate that another monkey will get them instead.

Unlocking animal behavior through motion
Using physics to study different types of animal motion, such as burrowing worms or flying flocks, can reveal how animals behave in different settings.

AI to help monitor behavior
Algorithms based on artificial intelligence do better at supporting educational and clinical decision-making, according to a new study.

Increasing opportunities for sustainable behavior
To mitigate climate change and safeguard ecosystems, we need to make drastic changes in our consumption and transport behaviors.

Predicting a protein's behavior from its appearance
Researchers at EPFL have developed a new way to predict a protein's interactions with other proteins and biomolecules, and its biochemical activity, merely by observing its surface.

Spirituality affects the behavior of mortgagers
According to Olga Miroshnichenko, a Sc.D in Economics, and a Professor at the Department of Economics and Finance, Tyumen State University, morals affect the thinking of mortgage payers and help them avoid past due payments.

Asking if behavior can be changed on climate crisis
One of the more complex problems facing social psychologists today is whether any intervention can move people to change their behavior about climate change and protecting the environment for the sake of future generations.

Read More: Behavior News and Behavior Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.