Monday, May 18, 2009

Religion and Citizenship


The Religion New Service has a piece about research that suggests there is a relationship between religiosity and civic involvement:

First, the silver lining: people of faith are better citizens and better neighbors, and America is "amazingly" religious compared to other countries, says Harvard University professor Robert Putnam.

Now, the cloud: young Americans are "vastly more secular" than their older counterparts, according to Putnam.

"That is a stunning development," Putnam said. "The youth are the future. Some of them are going to get religious over time, but most of them are not."

A celebrated political scientist, Putnam has long been concerned with declining participation in American civic life, as described in his best-selling book "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community." When Elks clubs and parent-teacher associations lose members, the ties that bind civil society unravel, Putnam argues.

But religious people may be God's gift to civic engagement, Putnam and University of Notre Dame scholar David Campbell argue in their book, "American Grace: How Religion is Reshaping our Civic and Political Lives," which is scheduled to be released next year.

Putnam and Campbell unveiled some of their research at a recent conference in Key West, Fla., hosted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The scholars say their studies found that religious people are three to four times more likely to be involved in their community. They are more apt than nonreligious Americans to work on community projects, belong to voluntary associations, attend public meetings, vote in local elections, attend protest demonstrations and political rallies, and donate time and money to causes -- including secular ones. (Read the whole thing here)

Without the benefit of examining the study with my own eyes, I should take the reported findings with a grain of salt. It does appear to align with some of what Baha'u'llah has said about religion as a social force:

"The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God's holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. The religion of God and His divine law are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquillity of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God. Religion bestoweth upon man the most precious of all gifts, offereth the cup of prosperity, imparteth eternal life, and showereth imperishable benefits upon mankind."
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 129)