Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 44:2 (2005), pp. 159–171. Copyright © 2005 Society for the Scientific Study of Religion; published by Wiley-Blackwell. Used by permission.


Previous research demonstrates two aspects of religion that affect civic activity—church participation and religious conservatism. Conservative religious beliefs and membership in conservative denominations are often associated with low levels of civic activity while church participation is said to increase civic activity. This article advances the discussion of the relationship between religion and civic participation by introducing the congregational context. Data from the 1987 Church and Community Planning Inventory show that congregations vary in their members’ civic activity—congregational factors associated with conservative Christianity (high levels of biblical literalism and within-church friendships) are strongly and negatively associated with church members’ activity in nonchurch organizations. At the individual level, the data show that education and participation in church activities other than religious services have particularly strong, positive effects on church members’ activity in nonchurch organizations. The findings demonstrate that a conservative congregational context limits church members’ activity in nonchurch organizations, potentially limiting their opportunities to build heterogeneous social networks and social capital that bridges church members to other people in their communities.

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