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Religion and Crime Examined

In the war against crime, a newly published study in a leading criminology journal suggests a unique weapon - participation in religious activities. According to the researchers, the greater an individualís involvement in religious activities, the lower their chances of being involved in a wide range of crimes.

In order to examine the relationship between religious involvement and criminal behavior, the researchers surveyed over 550 adults living in a Mid-Western urban area and asked how many times during the past 12 months they had committed any one of a variety of criminal acts. Each respondent's level of religious commitment was also measured using various questions dealing with religious denomination, religious beliefs, religious values, and religious activities.

When the relationship between religious commitment and criminal behavior was statistically analyzed, only one aspect of religiosity - religious behavior - was found to have a significant relationship to lower levels of criminal behavior. In other words, simply holding religious beliefs or values was not found to be as important in deterring crime as was regular participation in religious activities such as attending religious services, listening to religious broadcasts, or reading religious materials.

Why might religious behaviors provide such a strong deterrent to participation in crime? First, due to their frequent attendance at religious services and activities, the religiously active may be more frequently exposed to moral messages against crime and other types of immoral behaviors than the less religious. Secondly, frequent participation in religious events introduces the religiously active to a community of believers who reinforce religious teachings and behaviors, thus decreasing an individual's tendency to fall into criminal behavior. The researchers commented on this occurrence, stating that "continual reinforcement of religious moral values and policing of behavior are more likely when one is embedded in such a community of fellow believers."

Such findings lend credence to the old maxim, "Actions speak louder than words" as this study found that religious actions and behaviors seem to be much more predictive of lower levels of criminal behavior than either religious attitudes or beliefs. Indeed, the researchers concluded that "neither religious beliefs nor religious attitudes are as important in inhibiting criminal involvement as actual behavior that requires immersion in church networks - in a community of believers."

Reference: Evans, D.T., Cullen F.T., Dunaway R.G., and Burton V.S., Jr. (1995). "Religion and Crime Reexamined: The Impact of Religion, Secular Controls, and Social Ecology on Adult Criminality." Criminology 33(2): 195-217.

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