A Question of Civic Engagement: Comparing the Role of Religion in America and Britain

Spring 2009

America and Britain present an interesting paradox with regards to religion and other forms of civic engagement. In America, civic engagement has declined but religious activity is stable, while in Europe civic engagement has largely remained stable while religious activity has declined. Thus the question arises, what is it about the role of religion in America compared to Britain that makes it so distinct from other forms of civic participation? Or, framed another way, what is it about religion in Britain that allows religious activity to fall below other forms of civic participation? This is the central question driving our research.

Using original data from Faith Matters, a survey distributed in the US in the years 2006 and 2007, as well as in Britain, and with a sample size of nearly 2,200, our research investigated whether religious participation yields certain benefits or kinds of social capital distinct from what is generated by secular forms of civic participation more generally: benefits of social capital that are needed more in one society but not the other, depending on social structures or government provisions. In general, exploring and comparing the role of religion with regards to civic engagement in both America and Britain sheds light on the classic and still largely unanswered question of cross-national variations in religious vitality.

  • Sponsoring Faculty Member -¬†Robert D. Putnam, Thomas Sander
  • Undergraduate Scholar - Nan Ransohoff