Department of Justice Awards Grant to Study Religion and Prosocial Youth Behavior

Oct. 9, 2006

Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and the Program on Prosocial Behavior have received a $400,000 grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to establish a research initiative that examines the role religion plays in prosocial youth behavior.

Participating in the initiative will be Dr. Rodney Stark, University Professor of the Social Sciences and co-director of ISR; Dr. Byron Johnson, professor of sociology and co-director of ISR as well as director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior; Dr. Christopher Bader, assistant professor of sociology, ISR fellow and co-principal investigator; Dr. Sung Joon Jang, associate professor of sociology at Louisiana State University and non-resident fellow at ISR; and Dr. Scott Desmond, assistant professor of sociology at Purdue University and non-resident fellow at ISR.

"For decades scholars have identified factors that predict antisocial behavior, especially crime. But surely it is at least as important to understand why kids turn into good citizens as to understand why they go bad," Stark said. "Hardly any attention has been given to this side of the equation. What factors support positive, prosocial behavior? There is much more involved here than merely obeying the law. Why do people do admirable things? For example, why do they support charities, do volunteer work, return lost valuables or participate in civic activities? Of course, we already know some of the answers to these questions, but now we can really dig in."

The federal grant from the OJJDP is a multidisciplinary initiative devoted specifically to understanding the role of religiousness, religiosity, religious institutions and congregations, as well as religious practices and beliefs, in promoting prosocial behavior among youth. The Program on Prosocial Behavior will produce and encourage ground-breaking quantitative and qualitative studies of the antecedents, correlates and factors associated with prosocial behavior.

"Put simply, there is a need for research that intentionally focuses our understanding on positive and prosocial outcomes," Johnson said. "In essence, the field of crime and delinquency studies is badly skewed to the negative and in need of a major overhaul. What better place to initiate the shift in that mindset than here at Baylor?"

The six main aims of the Religion in Prosocial Youth Behavior project are to:

a. Identify protective factors or variables that may ultimately help both faith-based as well as secular programs attain critical competencies so that they can be effective partners in the prevention and/or amelioration of juvenile delinquency and youth violence in their communities.

b. Develop empirically informed scholarship to promote youth crime desistance.

c. Foster an integrated approach to youth crime prevention that includes the role of religion and faith-based organizations in promoting prosocial behavior.

d. Publish a series of ground-breaking articles on the connection of religion to prosocial youth behavior.

e. Systematically review the religion-crime literature and publish a research monograph to distribute findings regionally, nationally and internationally.

f. Hold a catalytic and field-changing research conference on the role of religion in promoting prosocial youth behavior.

The Baylor research team has already contributed significantly to the growing body of research that suggests youth exposure to religious and spiritual activities, in conjunction with other environmental factors, is a powerful inhibitor of juvenile delinquency and youth violence. For example, youth who attend church frequently are less likely to engage in a variety of delinquent behaviors, including drug use, skipping school, fighting and violent and nonviolent crimes. Studies also suggest that being involved in or exposed to altruistic or "prosocial" activities and attitudes -- something that many churches and other faith-based organizations reportedly have as intrinsic aspects of their mission -- appears to reduce the risk of youth violence.

According to Bader, who teaches courses in criminology at Baylor, "Our research team believes that especially important insights can be gained by studying the factors associated with conventional or prosocial behavior exhibited by youth. We are hopeful that a proper understanding of the mechanisms associated with prosocial behavior will assist in the development of future prevention and intervention strategies."

This project was supported by Award No. 2006-JF-FX-0072 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, Department of Justice.

For more on ISR and on the Role of Religion in Youth Prosocial Behavior, contact Johnson or Bader at (254) 710-7555 or visit ISR's website at Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor.

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