Survey explores religion in 2011

By Grace Gaddy

During times of economic frustration, political change and visible controversy surrounding issues such as the rights of gays and lesbians, researchers from Baylor set out to further explore how religion affects the views and beliefs of Americans in the 21st century.

More than 1,700 random chosen adults participated in the survey, conducted by the Gallup Organization in the fall of 2010. Respondents answered more than 300 items spanning issues from the link between religion and mental health to differing beliefs about heaven and hell.

Dr. Paul Froese, associate professor of sociology and a research fellow in the Institute for Studies of Religion, drew a line connecting political party ideology with religious beliefs.

“The average American, when they hear, ‘God bless America, could potentially hear the words with more economic equality and more social services,’ or ‘with less regulation and less government,’” he said.

Americans who favor economic equality and reductions in wealth are more likely to believe there is no ultimate truth or divine intervention, the study found.

Conversely, those believing in an “active and engaged God” were more likely to support economic conservatism and less government regulation, Froese said.

He compared this ideology to Adam Smith’s theory of an “invisible hand” guiding the free market. Americans believing that God has a specific plan for the United States and for themselves are more likely to favor hard work and view government regulation as intrusive to God’s plan, Froese said.

Dr. Kevin Dougherty, associate professor of sociology and research fellow in the Institute for Studies of Religion, drew attention to the relationship between religion and work. His findings were part of a larger national study titled “The National Study of Religion and Entrepreneurial Behavior, Regulatory Focus and Religion” conducted by Baylor faculty and funded by the National Science Foundation.

The study examined more than 20 items, including work attitudes, practices, organizational commitment and entrepreneurial activity. The goal, he said, was to find what religious meanings Americans attach to their work, if congregations support or promote their business ventures and the religious characteristics of American entrepreneurs.

A quarter of working Americans said they viewed their work as a mission from God, and 36 percent reported a desire to pursue excellence in work because of their faith.

Regular churchgoers were the most likely to attribute religious significance to their work, and biblical literalists were twice as likely to do so, the study found.

Andrew Whitehead, a researcher in the department of sociology and in the Institute for the Studies of Religion, spotlighted Americans’ views on homosexuality.

The American outlook has grown more tolerant since the 1970s.

The survey revealed a similar increase of support for gay rights, “as well as an interesting snapshot of the relationship with religious affiliation,” Whitehead said.

While an overwhelming percentage of Americans, more than 80 percent, agreed gays and lesbians should have equal employment opportunities, they are much less likely to support marriage or adoption equality, the study found.

Those who perceived homosexuality to be a choice, less than half, at 41 percent, were more likely not to support same-sex marriage or civil unions.