Jocelyn M. Johnston, Stephen B. Holt | Policy Studies Journal
Many religions have an ethos of community betterment that can spur their members to contribute to society in meaningful ways. Yet much of the literature on religion and politics tends to focus on how places of worship increase explicitly partisan activities like voting or donating to a political campaign. Does religion affect community engagement in the same ways that it does political participation? A unique research design executed in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA brings together religious data on individual beliefs and behaviors, clergy messaging, and congregation culture to examine religion’s effects on both political activity and community engagement. The results demonstrate that religion influences both types of behaviors, but not always in the same ways. For instance, it appears as though many congregations tend to develop cultures that encourage either community engagement or political activity, rather than both, with Black Protestant churches as an exception. Additionally, individuals that hold providential religious beliefs tend to have higher levels of community engagement but lower levels of political activity. These findings indicate that religion influences different types of participation differently.