People who regularly visit a place of worship are less likely to be involved in low-level crime and delinquency, according to new research.
The project, led by University of Manchester doctoral student Mark Littler, involved the analysis of new survey data and in-depth interviews with young members of the United Kingdom’s major faiths.

Mixing with believers who encourage better behavior is the key influence.

“This research implies that the act of visiting a place of worship may trigger a significant reduction in the likelihood of involvement in certain types of criminal and delinquent behavior,” Littler said.

“In line with existing American research, my results suggest that it is the act of mixing with fellow believers that is important, regardless of whether this is via formal worship, involvement in faith-based social activities or simply through spending time with family and friends who share your faith,” he said. “The important thing is exposure to people who encourage pro-social behaviors and can provide sanctions for their breach.”

The study, which is the first time this type of analysis has been carried out in the U.K., is to be published later this year. It was funded by the Bill Hill Charitable Trust.

The survey data comprised responses from 1,214 adults between the ages of 18 and 34 and was collected in July 2013.

It gathered information on eight measures of delinquency: littering, skipping school/work, using illegal drugs, fare dodging, shoplifting, music piracy, property damage and violence against the person.

Though most measures showed some relationship, shoplifting, the use of illegal drugs and music piracy evidenced the most significant correlations.

More serious crimes were too rare for the data to be able to show a significant pattern.

 “These results suggest a more positive picture of Britain’s religious life than the doom and gloom you might read about it in the newspapers,” Littler said. “But they are not necessarily a blow to the proponents of atheism: religious practice is just one way of gaining exposure to the pro-social behavioral norms that are at the heart of this relationship; other, more secular, activities may equally serve a similar role.”

A version of this article first appeared in The Baptist Times of Great Britain and is used with permission.

Editor’s note: EthicsDaily’s forthcoming documentary, “Through the Door,” focuses on the faith community’s engagement with prisons. More information can be found here.

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