Social Effects on Religious Orientation
The purpose of this study is to examine whether there are social relationships among peoples’ religious orientation, their chosen house of worship, and their attendance at said house of worship. As seen in current research, religion affects many aspects of human life, regardless of whether a person is religious or not (Amann 2002). Religion can affect range simple, daily activities such as: health related behaviors, from eating habits to birth control, and personal relationships. One of the more devastating effects religion can have on the life of people, genocide, is also discussed (Amann 2002).
Genocide, as described by Amann (2002), is a “commission of a heinous act with the desire to eliminate a human group” (p. 145). Amann describes the terms mentioned in the 1948 convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This conference would not have been necessary if religion had no social effects on people’s behavior.
Smith (2008) discussed these social affects, and the need for further study of religion. Smith mentions how the “socio-political events in recent decades have forced religion back onto the scholarly table (p.1562)”. From the cult phenomena of the 1970s to militant Islam in the Middle East to the religious right growing in the US shows how religion has a vast effect on peoples’ lives. Smith shows how religion affects peoples’ behaviors, which still needs further study. Religion has an effect on the world, and it can influence followers to become suicide bombers and others to persecute followers of other faiths. Without further study of religion we cannot have more understanding of the way it affects people, and without understanding that we cannot prevent these things from happening.
Smith (2008) also states that “scholars developed new survey measures of religion that proved much more discriminating and useful than the religious questions they replaced…statistically oriented scholars have greatly increased the sophistication of quantitative analysis applied to religion (p.1567)”. Smith (2008) described how researchers came up with better survey techniques that include spirituality as well as religiosity, more options than the simple yes no answers regarding religion. Smith also discovered, through field study, that these more in-depth surveys provided advances in the understanding of “the relationships between religion and life outcomes, particularly deviance.” (p.1570). In the survey I wrote for this study I used some of these techniques, using simple yes/no answers along with Likert scales and multiple choice answers.
Newton and Mann found that crowd size is a factor in the persuasion process when attempting to convert new members to a faith. Newton and Mann discuss how crowd size at Billy Graham rallies, ranging from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, positively correlated with his success in converting non-believers and people of other faiths to commit to Christianity. There is evidence that “in large audiences, the example set by those who first answer the evangelist’s call is more compelling to people who are inclined to go forward, but would otherwise be hesitant…for the undecided members of the audience the sight of 1% of 100,000 (1,000) people moving forward creates a more powerful magnet than the sight of 1% of 1,000 (10) people” (878-879). Newton and Mann’s study explains that people are more likely to change their beliefs when they see that others are doing so. They also found that the larger the size of the crowd that walk to the stage and publicly change their beliefs, that more people from the audience follow.
This research shows that social environment, with a large number of people, effects peoples’ behavior when it comes to selecting a faith. Newton and Mann’s research findings demonstrate the effect of social groups and settings on people before converting, and the more people around them converting raises the likelihood that there will be additional converts. This is merely one effect that groups have on people when it comes to their faith, before they have even converted. After converting are more affects that the group has on people, and this is why more research on religion is needed.
After joining a religion a person becomes part of a larger group, an in-group (Eidelson, 2003), Eidelson goes on to explain how they begin to participate in group activities and adhering to group beliefs. There are both positive and negative views that groups share, “superiority, injustice, vulnerability, distrust of other groups, and helplessness” (p. 183). These are all social effects on a person’s beliefs, and usually individuals do not feel these as strongly without group reinforcement (Eidelson 2003). Eidelson’s example of social effects on people’s religious choices goes beyond that of Newton and Mann. Not only are people more likely to convert when they see others converting, the individuals begin to have similar feelings to those in their group.
Newton and Mann explain the effects that groups of people can have on others when making religious decisions. Eidelson discusses how the group effects the decisions and beliefs of a person after they have already converted. Each of these are important when recognizing the effects that a sociality has on individuals’ decision making. When it comes to religion this effect can be very large, and change a person greatly.
The participants in this study consisted of 77 members from two different religious organizations in Warrensburg, Missouri. Only 65 of the completed surveys were used, with surveys being removed due to incompletion and multiple answers for one question. There were 24 male and 41 female participants in this study.
The materials for this study consisted of a consent form, a questionnaire/survey, and a debriefing form. The 12 questions in the survey measured: the attendance of the members of each house of worship, the reasons that they chose that particular house of worship, and why they continue to attend. Most the responses were measured on a Likert scale with options ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest level of agreement and 5 being the highest. Participants ranked their level of religiosity/spirituality, if their house of worship makes them feel socially accepted, and if activities outside the normal services aided in their decision to attend their chosen house of worship on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much). Attendance to their chosen house of worship was measured on a scale of 1(less than once a month) to 5 (daily). The participants reported how often they attend with friends or family and how often they attend functions outside of regular services on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always). They also identified what was most appealing about their chosen house of worship before attending and what keeps them coming back in a multiple choice question, with the options of: My friends/family attend, the number of members, this house of worship teaches my chosen faith, and the pastor/priest/minister.
The surveys were distributed to willing participants at two houses of worship in Warrensburg, MO. All of the information was kept confidential and anonymous. They were provided a pencil, to answer the questions, and a blank sheet of paper to shield their answers from others. After completing the survey the participants were given a debriefing form, thanked, and given a chance to ask questions.
The participants’ survey answers were analyzed to determine the frequencies of each answer, if there were any significant correlations between sociality and religion, and if there were any differences between males and females. The findings were that 55.4% of participants considered themselves to be very religious/spiritual, 73.8% of participants ranked themselves at the 4 level on attendance, 76.9% claimed to always attend with friends or family, 50.8% stated that their friends/family attendance affected their choice to attend, 41.5% reported that their house of worship makes them feel very socially accepted, 40% ranked themselves at the 4 level on extracurricular activity attendance, 58.4% stated that the availability of extracurricular activities at least somewhat aided in their decision to attend, 69.2% reported that their house of worship was appealing before attending because it teaches their chosen faith, and 58.5% reported that they continue attending their house of worship because it teaches their chosen faith.
There is a significant positive correlation (r=0.295, p<.05) between the level of religiosity reported and the level of attendance to activities outside of traditional Sunday services. There is a significant positive correlation (r=.253, p<.05) between feeling socially accepted and attending services outside of traditional Sunday services. There is a significant correlation (r=.336, p<.01) between attending with friends and family and feeling socially accepted. There is a positive correlation (r=.255, p<.05) between feeling socially accepted and the availability of activities outside of traditional Sunday services aiding in the decision to attend the chosen house of worship. There was also a significant correlation (r=.299, p<.05) between attendance to activities outside of traditional Sunday services and the availability of social activities aiding in the decision to attend the house of worship. There were no significant differences between males and females.
The purpose of this study was to determine if there were any social effects on people’s religious orientation. I hypothesized that a person’s choice of house of worship would be affected by sociality. The data supported this hypothesis. Most participants attend with friends or family, and for many the attendance of friends or family effected their decision to attend. For many, the availability of activities outside of regular services aided in their decision to attend their chosen house of worship. However, many also ranked themselves as highly religious/spiritual and reported that they began attending and continue to attend because their house of worship teaches their chosen faith.
This study was limited by all of the participants being members of Christian religious organizations, which did not allow for all faiths to be represented. Further study would be needed to properly represent a variety of faiths. Also, the only town in which the surveys were given was Warrensburg, MO, so there is a need for further study in order to represent different cultural aspects of faith.
Even though the findings support the hypothesis, the design involved a sample of Christians from Warrensburg, MO. Only one faith, Christianity, and one country, the United States, and one region, the Midwest, were represented. A replication of this study with a larger sample, from varied religions and varied countries and regions, would help to further support this hypothesis. Also, having participants take the survey somewhere other than their house of worship may aid in preventing socially desirable responses, because they would not be inside their house of worship with their fellow worshipers and pastor/priest/minister beside them. Other methods, such as fill in the blank questions, paired with the multiple choice and Likert scale questions may provide a more accurate representation of the participants’ beliefs and feelings.
Amann, D.M. (2002). Group mentality, expression, and genocide. International
Criminal Law Review, 2.2, 93-143.
Eidelson, R. J. (2003). Dangerous ideas: Five beliefs that propel groups toward conflict. American Psychologist, 58, 182-192.
Newton, J., & Mann L. (1980). Crowd size as a factor in the persuasion process: a study of religious crusade meetings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 874-883.
Smith, C. (2008). Future directions in the sociology of religion. Social Forces, 86, 1561-1589.