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Religion, Communication, and Social Capital
Unformatted Document Text:  Religion, Communication, and Social Capital --6-- among their members. Specific to religion, Stolle and Rochon report that church membership was negatively associated with social capital. Though their study is specific to Sweden, and does not provide a comparison measure of the diversity of association for churches, the major finding that not all associations are equivalent in sponsoring social capital is highly salient to our current study of the U.S. context. In fact, the associational networks within churches may be unique in American society, as churches constitute hierarchically organized groups of like-minded individuals bound by strong affective ties and regular social interactions. As institutions, churches are chiefly concerned with influencing the worldviews and behavior of their members, and interactions among church members are likely to repeat and reinforce political and social cues offered by church hierarchy or by other church-based communications (Gilbert, 1993). For regular congregants, churches constitute a salient and powerful climate of opinion with strong isolation effects for members that deviate from perceived within-church majority norms (Jelen, 1992). The social power emanating from association with churches can be found in early American sociological research on community integration (Janowitz 1952, Merton 1950, and Park 1928/1978) which assumed that church involvement sponsored wider community integration. These researchers included church affiliation in an overall index score for total community associational membership. Putnam’s (2000) recent work on social capital adopts, in part, this assumption that church affiliation sponsors overall community integration. The question remains, however, as Merton (1950) first suggested: to what degree in a society marked by religious and social heterogeneity, does religion serve as a socially disintegrative influence? In addition, as Merton noted, if other institutions arise that serve the same social integration function as religion—examples might include education, science, or television—then religion

Authors: Nisbet, Matthew., Moy, Patricia. and Scheufele, Dietram.
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Religion, Communication, and Social Capital
--6--
among their members. Specific to religion, Stolle and Rochon report that church membership
was negatively associated with social capital. Though their study is specific to Sweden, and does
not provide a comparison measure of the diversity of association for churches, the major finding
that not all associations are equivalent in sponsoring social capital is highly salient to our current
study of the U.S. context.
In fact, the associational networks within churches may be unique in American society,
as churches constitute hierarchically organized groups of like-minded individuals bound by
strong affective ties and regular social interactions. As institutions, churches are chiefly
concerned with influencing the worldviews and behavior of their members, and interactions
among church members are likely to repeat and reinforce political and social cues offered by
church hierarchy or by other church-based communications (Gilbert, 1993). For regular
congregants, churches constitute a salient and powerful climate of opinion with strong isolation
effects for members that deviate from perceived within-church majority norms (Jelen, 1992).
The social power emanating from association with churches can be found in early
American sociological research on community integration (Janowitz 1952, Merton 1950, and
Park 1928/1978) which assumed that church involvement sponsored wider community
integration. These researchers included church affiliation in an overall index score for total
community associational membership. Putnam’s (2000) recent work on social capital adopts, in
part, this assumption that church affiliation sponsors overall community integration. The
question remains, however, as Merton (1950) first suggested: to what degree in a society marked
by religious and social heterogeneity, does religion serve as a socially disintegrative influence?
In addition, as Merton noted, if other institutions arise that serve the same social integration
function as religion—examples might include education, science, or television—then religion


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