What congregations do well

Sociologist Robert Putnam, known for his sociological study Bowling Alone, and co-author Chaeyoon Lim have an article on the effects of religion on life satisfaction in the December issue of American Sociological Review [ASR]. The full article is hidden behind a paywall, but there’s an abstract of the article available on the ASR Web site:

Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction
Chaeyoon Lim and Robert D. Putnam
Abstract: Although the positive association between religiosity and life satisfaction is well documented, much theoretical and empirical controversy surrounds the question of how religion actually shapes life satisfaction. Using a new panel dataset, this study offers strong evidence for social and participatory mechanisms shaping religion’s impact on life satisfaction. Our findings suggest that religious people are more satisfied with their lives because they regularly attend religious services and build social networks in their congregations. The effect of within-congregation friendship is contingent, however, on the presence of a strong religious identity. We find little evidence that other private or subjective aspects of religiosity affect life satisfaction independent of attendance and congregational friendship.

Science News provides a little more detail in an online article today, which you can read here.

The research by Putnam and Lim is an interesting addition to the 2004 research by sociologist Mark Chaves (Congregations in America, Harvard Univ.). Chaves found that although congregations were not very effective at providing social services or engaging in political action, congregations were good at producing “worship events,” religious education, and facilitating artistic activity: “If we ask what congregations do, the answer is that they mainly traffic in ritual, knowledge, and beauty through the cultural activities of worship, education, and the arts….” Now we can add that congregation provide an increased sense of life satisfaction when individuals regularly attend services and build social networks in the congregation.

2 thoughts on “What congregations do well

  1. Bill Baar

    Congregations also help us mark our passage in time: birth, baptism, marriage, funerals of parents and friends, and eventually our own. One reason to belong is to know who’ll say your eulogy and gives one a little input on what will be said.

  2. Dan

    Bill @ 1 — While I think Chaves would place rites of passage under the general heading of “producing worship events,” and Putnam might say that what you’re talking about has to do with building a network of friends at church (I still remember the memorial service I did for the person who had not network of friends at church, and almost no one showed up) — nevertheless, from my point of view you’re absolutely right.

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