At the individual level of analysis, evidence has accumulated in support of the hypothesis that persons who are most religious commit crimes at lower rates than those who are least religious. This study examined the relationship at a societal level, based on 1990–1991 data from 13 industrial nations. Overall, the findings revealed that more religious countries have lower crime rates than less religious countries, at least regarding property crimes (as opposed to either aggressive or victimless offenses). As has been reported when comparing individuals, this relationship was more pronounced in the case of “overt” aspects of religiosity (especially church attendance and church membership) than in the case of any specific religious beliefs. The results were discussed in the context of four theories that predict an inverse religiosity-criminality relationship: control theory, rational choice theory, moral reasoning theory, and arousal theory. Findings from the present study seemed most consistent with moral reasoning theory and arousal theory.
Over the last twenty years researchers have given a lot of attention to the relationship between religion and crime, finding that religion tends to have a deterring influence on crime-related attitudes and behaviors. While a variety of studies have been published in this area, little work has been done to assess the state of research on religion and crime. Because so much research has consistently found a relationship, work on religion may be able to offer fresh insight into criminological theory and substantive research more generally. This study fills a gap in current understanding by conducting a systematic review of empirically-based journal articles published between 2004 and 2014. The analysis, which assesses qualitative and quantitative studies, offers theoretical and empirical insight into what religion brings to the study of crime, and vice versa. The results focus on the data sources, methods, theories, and journals used in producing research on religion and crime. The findings highlight the most popular theoretical perspectives, which include religious contextual effects, social control, and social learning, as well as the least popular ones. Insight into the strengths and weaknesses of current research on religion and crime is provided, as is direction for future research into this innovative area of research.
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