Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Considering Personal Religiosity in Adolescent Delinquency: The Role of Depression, Suicidal Ideation, and Church Guideline

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Considering Personal Religiosity in Adolescent Delinquency: The Role of Depression, Suicidal Ideation, and Church Guideline

Article excerpt

Despite an impressive array of studies on the subject, relatively little has been explored regarding the causal structures that may connect personal religion and adolescent delinquency. The premise behind this study is that religiosity is linked with delinquency mainly indirectly through an impact on different intervening factors. This hypothesis found support from an extensive survey of teenagers in an evangelical church. Personal religiosity affects depression/suicidal ideation and endorsement of church instruction, which subsequently determine the propensity to substance use and criminal misdemeanor behavior involvement. Besides, overall, the study finds deterrent effects of intrinsic religiosity, doctrinal orthodoxy, and vertical faith on adolescent delinquency. Extrinsic religiosity leads to increased substance use and criminal misdemeanor, while horizontal faith brings about a mixed pattern of causal effects.

While issues related to adolescent delinquency have long been on the research agenda, the last few decades have seen religion become the subject of increasing research in relation to delinquency. One of the most studied issues in this area was the problem of personal religion's importance to delinquent behavior, which has produced inconsistent evidence. Some researchers claimed that the impact is spurious while others tout its protectiveness.

Hirschi and Stark (1969), for example, asserted that involvement in delinquent behavior is unrelated to religious practice. This research is recognized as having set researchers on a scientific course for the study of linkage between religiosity and delinquency, and their view was echoed in the follow-up studies by Higgins and Albrecht (1977) and Richard, Bell, and Carlson (2000). More recently, Cretacei (2003) examined whether religious commitment affects delinquency indirectly by increasing social bonding. The effects were found to be independent of social bonding. In a similar manner, arousal theory for delinquency asserts that individuals are different in their demand for stimulation, and those who require low levels of stimulation find a home in church and thus display little deviance (Ellis, 1987). That is, covariation between religiosity and reduced delinquency is spurious, due mainly to the effect of low levels of sensation seeking that most religious people demand.

In opposition to this view, other researchers have argued that religiousness is a deterrent to substance use. For instance, Johnson, Larson, Li, and Jang (2000) reported that church attendance is negatively related to drug use, drug sales, and non-drug related crimes. The research of Jeynes (2001) and Hadaway, Elifson, and Peterson (1984) showed that religious activity and personal salience of religion to the respondent relate to low levels of drug and alcohol use. Also germane to the present study is the research of Corwyn and Benda (2000) who discovered that an increase of personal religiosity was a significant predictor of lower levels of hard drug use. Religiosity here meant the practice of a religion that is internalized, cognitively oriented, and treated by individuals as a way of communicating with God. Consonantly, Simons, Simons, and Conger (2004) suggested that as for substance abuse, religious youth are also at less risk for criminal activities than their non-religious peers primarily due to their commitment to traditional values and having peers who hold the same values. Windham, Hooper, and Hudson (2005) paid attention to the buffering effect of religious involvement: religious beliefs reduce the hopelessness some adolescents feel that can lead to criminal and violent behavior.

Two observations may be drawn from the foregoing review of related literature. First, a relation to adolescent religiosity seems as yet far from conclusive as demonstrated by the lack of consensus on the importance and directionality of religion's influence on delinquency. In particular, possibly except for that of Cretacei (2003) and Windham, Hooper, and Hudson (2005), little systematic work exists on the agency or means by which a religiosity effect is generated in conjunction with youth delinquency. …

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