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A Not-So-Good Faith Estimate

Why Many Studies Underestimate the Full Benefits of Religion


Jason S. Carroll and Spencer L. James

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Religious “dosage” matters – The full benefits of religion are experienced by those who actively engage in home-centered religious practices, in addition to regularly attending religious services.

Religious worship patterns correspond to a stratification of religiosity, and this study found important differences in self-reported outcomes between those who engage in the highest levels of religious participation and those who are secular, nominally religious, or who attend religious services, but do not regularly engage in home worship practices. These practices, such as personal and family prayer, reading scriptures, and regularly discussing religious teachings in one’s home, appear to constitute a higher dosage of religion. For example, individuals who engage in home-centered religious practices are significantly more likely to report high levels of life meaning and relationship quality in their marriages than are individuals who only attend church regularly. These and other findings suggest that there are increased benefits for individuals and families who experience the highest level of “religious dosage” involving religious practices in the home.

This study also provides clear evidence of the deficiencies with the often-used practice in many public studies of measuring religiosity solely with levels of church attendance. In fact, by combining individuals and families who engage in home-centered religious practices with those who only attend church not only conceals these differences, but also leads to the erroneous conclusion that the potential benefits of religion are smaller than they actually are. In fact, our findings suggest that measuring religiosity with only church attendance underestimates the benefits of religion by approximately 25%, on average, and can be as high as nearly 50% on certain outcomes. This means that highly religious individuals who engage in home-centered religious practices frequently score 25% higher, and in some cases as much as 50% higher, than is often reported for “highly religious” individuals in many public research studies.

Religion, it appears, is one way for people to find meaning and connection. Therefore, it is not surprising that the extent to which one engages in religious practices is predictive of the extent to which one gains the anticipated benefits of religion. Separating those who engage fully in their faith from those who only engage partially in it makes this conclusion clear. Future research on the influences of religion should consider the drawbacks of measuring religiosity solely using religious attendance or affiliation, as the results will likely underestimate what one may find with a richer measurement of religiosity using home-based religious practices.