Family Commitment Blended with Strong Religion Dampens Civic Participation

Released: 15-Nov-2012 11:30 AM EST
Source Newsroom: Baylor University
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Citations Social Science Research

Newswise — Blending religion with familism — a strong commitment to lifelong marriage and childbearing — dampens secular civic participation, according to research by a Baylor University sociologist.

“Strong family and strong religion. What happens when they meet? Is that good for the larger society? It is not always as it seems,” said Young-Il Kim, Ph.D., a postdoctoral Fellow in Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

His study — “Bonding alone: Familism, religion and secular civic participation” — is published online in Social Science Research journal.

The findings are based on analysis of data from the first wave of the National Survey of Families and Households, a survey of more than 10,000 individuals age 19 and older designed by the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The findings are significant because no studies have shown that traditional family ideology discourages people from involvement with the secular world – or whether the relationship varies by levels of religious commitment, Kim said.

Previous studies have shown that religion reinforces ties within a family, and that religious involvement promotes civic engagement. But Kim said he wanted to examine the interaction of familism and religion, including such activities as church attendance, on secular civic activities. He found that as religious participation increases, the negative influence of familism on civic participation tends to become larger.

The reason is uncertain for why the merging of traditional family ideology and religion insulates a family within its own members and religious social groups, according to the study, co-authored by W. Bradford Wilcox, Ph.D., director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

Possible causes might be that the modern secular world causes feelings of insecurity for people who hold traditional family values, and that there is a desire to protect one’s family from secular influences. Another possibility is that familistic Americans who are devoted to their religion and places of worship “probably have little time and energy to devote to secular organizations,” Kim said.

Researchers examined whether respondents reported at least one membership in such secular voluntary organizations as political groups, labor unions, sports or cultural groups, hobby clubs and professional societies.

The study noted that the boundary between “religious” and “civic” spheres in the United States often is blurred.

“Several secular organizations have religious origins, or certain civic activities that appear to be secular may be sponsored by religious organizations,” with the Catholic Knights of Columbus as an example, according to the study.

The study’s implication is that while putting value on families is a good thing, too much involvement with “birds of a feather” — those within the family and religious community — may hinder people from benefitting society at large, Kim said.

He reassured that familistic people are still joiners. “I do not say that they are asocial. What I want to say is that their social life is somewhat limited to religious groups, and this may hinder social integration in broader society.

“That’s why some sociologists of religion dream of multi-ethnic congregations — to be a more inclusive and more vibrant society,” he said.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “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 broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT THE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDIES OF RELIGION
Launched in August 2004, the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) exists to initiate, support and conduct research on religion, involving scholars and projects spanning the intellectual spectrum: history, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, political science, epidemiology, theology and religious studies. The institute’s mandate extends to all religions, everywhere, and throughout history, and embraces the study of religious effects on prosocial behavior, family life, population health, economic development and social conflict. While always striving for appropriate scientific objectivity, ISR scholars treat religion with the respect that sacred matters require and deserve. For more information, visit www.baylorisr.org


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