Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Divine Intervention

Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Divine Intervention

Article excerpt

Why the most religious societies have the most volunteers

Lutheran World Relief (LWR) has no trouble finding volunteers in highly religious Tanzania, says Kathryn WoIford, president of the Baltimore-based social service organization. Although LWR provides material and technical support for its programs in the East African country, "it really is the local churches that recruit the volunteers," she says.

The local churches do a good job. Annually, 74.2 percent of Tanzanians lend an unpaid hand, compared to 38.4 percent of the more secular Americans, and 9.9 percent of the highly secular Russians, find Stijn Ruiter and Nan Dirk de Graaf, both of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The researchers' study of religiosity and volunteering in 53 countries reveals that "in more religious communities, people are more involved with volunteering," even if they are not personally religious, says Ruiter.

Moved by their religion's commandments to help, the devout not only motivate each other to pitch in, but also recruit their nonreligious neighbors, Ruiter explains. The wave of volunteering further spills over from religious to secular organizations. This pattern holds true from Albania to Zimbabwe, and for religions ranging from the Abrahamic to the Zoroastrian, the authors report in the April 2006 issue of the American Sociological Review.

Previous research had already shown that regular churchgoers volunteer more than the less observant. What's new about this study is that it demonstrates that religious contexts (as measured by the percentage of regular churchgoers in a society) increase altruistic outreach above and beyond what religious individuals might have done on their own. …

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