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Religiously active people more likely to engage in civic life, Pew study finds

The Pew study authors say their findings counter the view that religiously active people are less engaged with the secular world. Increased trust of others and optimism about one's impact on the community are cited as factors.

By Staff writer / December 23, 2011

In this November photo, Mizel Jewish school fifth-grader Brandon Sweet worships inside the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, which recently received pews, an ark, and other religious artifacts from a Muskogee synagogue that closed a month ago, in Tulsa, Okla.

Cory Young/The Tulsa World/AP


Los Angeles

Religious activism is good for civic life in America, according to a new study out from the Pew Research Center Project on the Internet and American Life released on Friday.

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The report finds that some 40 percent of Americans engage in some form of religious activity, whether going to a mosque, a synagogue, or a church. And in turn, they feel better all around about their place in the larger civic community.

According to a statement on the website, these individuals are more trusting of others, are more optimistic about their impact on their community, think more highly of their community, are more involved in more organizations of all kinds, and devote more time to the groups to which they are active, in comparison to those who do not engage in religious activities.

As far as technology goes, the study found, Americans who are members of religious groups are just as likely as others to use the Internet, have broadband at home, use cell phones, use text messaging, and use social-networking sites and Twitter.

“Some analysts have been concerned that those who have active spiritual lives might not be as engaged with the secular world,” notes report author Jim Jansen on the website. “We see the opposite. Those who are religiously active are more likely to participate in all kinds of groups and more likely to feel good about their communities. Those who are active in religious groups seem to be joiners. They also are active users of technology,” he adds.

These conclusions do not surprise scholars of American religious life or technology.

“This confirms what other researchers have been finding in recent years,” says Douglas Jacobsen, professor of theology and church history at Messiah College in Grantham, Penn. He notes that despite a public assumption that religiously-engaged individuals might be less inclined to civic participation, he points to such recent research as the critically acclaimed, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, as evidence that leading mainstream scholars are finding just the opposite.