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Religion and Crime - Assessing Whether Effects Of Religion Are Spurious

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A few studies have attempted the difficult task of determining whether any significant effects of religion on crime and delinquency are spurious. This is a difficult task because it can require identifying very specific non-spurious causes of crime and delinquency that help to eliminate all significant effects on religion. Further, even if certain variables can be identified that eliminate all significant effects of religion, such variables may be measures of intervening mechanisms that explain how religion might affect crime and delinquency. For example, if individuals who are religious refrain from alcohol and drug use because they define such activity as sinful, such definitions of drug use as sinful would be better interpreted as intervening variables that might explain how religion affects drug use.

In a 1995 study, Benda reports that the effects of religiosity on so-called antiascetic behaviors (such as alcohol use) are not mediated by other dimensions of social control. We might hypothesize that the effects of religiosity are mediated through factors such as parental supervision, but Benda does not conclude that this is the case. Similarly, in a 1993 study, Burkett reports that adolescent alcohol use remains directly affected by religiosity holding constant another measure of parental social control. Burkett concludes that drinking is still directly affected by religiosity, controlling for measures of conformity to parental wishes.

Cochran et al. conducted one of the most comprehensive examinations of whether religion is a spurious correlate of delinquency. They used measures derived from both arousal theory (a risk-taking theoretical perspective) and control theory. Cochran et al. conclude that religion still had a significant deterrent effect on tobacco and alcohol use, controlling for measures derived from both theoretical perspectives. The consensus among most researchers to date seems to be that the effects of religion, particularly on drug and alcohol use, are not spurious.

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