Academic journal article Sociological Focus

The Effects of Importance of Religion and Church Attendance on Adolescents' Moral Beliefs

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

The Effects of Importance of Religion and Church Attendance on Adolescents' Moral Beliefs

Article excerpt

Drawing on the work of Emile Durkheim ([1912] 1995) and Rodney Stark (2001), as well as research on the anti-ascetic thesis and reference group theory, we formulate a series of hypotheses regarding the effects of church attendance and importance of religion on adolescents' moral beliefs about marijuana use, getting drunk, hitting, and property offenses. The results of our study suggest that moral beliefs are more consistently and strongly related to importance of religion than to church attendance. Furthermore, much of the effect of church attendance on moral beliefs is mediated by importance of religion. Finally, we find evidence that importance of religion moderates (interaction) the effect of church attendance on moral beliefs. When adolescents believe religion is important, frequent church attendance further strengthens their moral beliefs. On the other hand, when adolescents believe religion is not important, frequent church attendance may actually reduce moral beliefs.

Despite the central role of moral beliefs in many theories of delinquency and crime, and the longstanding tradition of research on the relationship between religion and the moral order established a century ago by Durkheim ([1912] 1995), Koster, Goudriaan, and Schans (2009) argue there has been little contemporary research on the relationship between religiosity and moral beliefs.1 Therefore, in this study we focus on how church attendance and beliefs about the importance of religion independently, and in combination, influence adolescents' moral beliefs about using marijuana, getting drunk, hitting, and committing property offenses. We begin by focusing on Stark's (2001) assertion that, contrary to Durkheim, "participation in religious rites and rituals will have little or no independent effect on morality" (Stark 2001:622). After comparing the direct effects of church attendance and the importance of religion on adolescents' moral beliefs, we build on Stark's research by examining the indirect effect of church attendance on moral beliefs through beliefs about the importance of religion. In addition to testing competing hypotheses based on 1 Morality is generally defined as beliefs about right and wrong (or good and bad). For example, Wikstrom (2010:217) defined moral action as "any action that is guided by (moral) rules about what it is right or wrong to do, or not do, in particular circumstances." Similarly, according to Abend (2008:87), "the sociology of morality is the sociological investigation of the nature, causes, and consequences of people's ideas about the good and the right."

Durkheim and Stark, we also use research on the anti-ascetic thesis and reference group theory to extend previous research on the relationship between religiosity and moral beliefs. First, based on research that suggests religion has only a significant effect on behaviors "which run counter to a religious tradition of asceticism but are tolerated or only ambiguously condemned by secular influences" (Cochran and Beeghley 1991:60), we hypothesize that church attendance and importance of religion will influence moral beliefs about marijuana use and alcohol use, but will not influence moral beliefs about hitting and property offenses. Finally, based on reference group theory, we hypothesize that importance of religion conditions (interaction) the effect of church attendance on moral beliefs. In summary, whereas previous research has focused on the direct effects of church attendance and importance of religion on morals beliefs (Finke and Adamczyk 2008; Koster et al. 2009; Stark 2001), we draw on theory and research from divergent bodies of work to advance our understanding of how religiosity influences moral beliefs.

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE AND HYPOTHESES

Church Attendance and Moral Beliefs: Durkheim

A century ago, Durkheim ([1912] 1995) argued that one function of religion is to sustain the moral order. According to Durkheim, human beings cannot regulate their own desires, so their passions must be controlled by some external force. …

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