Social Resources and Influence in Religious Networks: Consequences for Social Support, Volunteering, and Intergroup Contact

Open Access
Merino, Stephen Miguel
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 29, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Roger Kent Finke, Dissertation Advisor
  • Roger Kent Finke, Committee Chair
  • Marylee Carmel Taylor, Committee Member
  • Barrett Alan Lee, Committee Member
  • Eric Plutzer, Committee Member
  • sociology of religion
  • social networks
  • social support
  • volunteering
  • intergroup contact
Religion is an important organizing dimension of individuals’ social networks. Moreover, religiously based network ties have wide-ranging effects in practitioners’ lives. At the core of the sociology of religion is an assertion that religion is a product and expression of social interaction. One approach to understanding the effects of religion, then, is to study its role in the function of social networks. Yet, social scientific research on religion often fails to adequately measure or account for individuals’ social contexts and social networks. The distinctiveness of religiously based ties has important consequences for the generation of both social resources and social influence within individuals’ networks. Using a uniquely suited data set, the 2006 Portraits of American Life Study (PALS), this dissertation explores the influence of religion in Americans’ core networks. It examines the role of religiously based close ties in three particular areas: 1) the receipt of informal social support, 2) volunteering for a nonprofit organization or community service project, and 3) moderating the effects of contact with gays and lesbians on same-sex marriage attitudes. Chapter 1 serves as an introduction to the dissertation and provides a brief overview of sociological research on religion and social networks. Chapter 2 describes the PALS in detail and introduces the survey’s egocentric network module. Chapter 3 examines how the religious qualities of close, interpersonal ties affect the provision of emotional, informational, and financial support. Bivariate and multivariate analyses of respondent-alter dyads indicate that religious homophily and interpersonal religious salience are both associated with greater support. Chapter 4 investigates predictors of secular volunteering, with a focus on religious involvement and recruitment via close ties. It finds that religiously based ties are both more frequent and effective sources of volunteer requests compared with other ties. Results also suggest that individual and social resources matter differently for different types of volunteering. Chapter 5 examines how individuals’ attitudes toward same-sex marriage are shaped both by their experiences with gays and lesbians and the composition of their core networks. Respondents with a higher proportion of college-educated individuals in their core networks display stronger support for same-sex marriage. Furthermore, while contact with gays or lesbians is strongly associated with greater support for same-sex marriage, the effect is attenuated for respondents with a higher proportion of religious conservatives in their core network. Finally, a concluding chapter discusses the findings of this body of research and proposes additional studies.