Can religion promote education in society?

Immigration, Displacement and Asylum: Current Issues

Martin Weinmann

is a research associate at the Federal Institute for Population Research
This article was written by the authors as private persons and reflects their personal opinion.

Alex Wittlif

is a research associate at the Expert Council of German Foundations for Integration and Migration (SVR).
This article was written by the authors as private persons and reflects their personal opinion.

Does religion or religiosity have positive or negative effects on participation in society? Can religious pluralization weaken the cohesion of society as a whole? These questions have been discussed in Germany for many years. An overview of key research results.

Voluntary helpers with the distribution of food for needy people. Research results show that both subjective religiosity and religious practice can have a positive effect on participation in civil society in Germany. (& copy dpa)

The importance of religion for the integration of immigrants has received a lot of attention in the public debate in Germany for years. From an analytical point of view, two fundamental questions can be distinguished:

1) To what extent does intensely lived religiosity or religious pluralization promote or inhibit social cohesion (so-called system integration)?

2) To what extent does religiosity promote or inhibit the participation of individual individuals in the central areas of social life (so-called social integration)?

The article summarizes the results of quantitative social science studies in particular and is based on a more comprehensive chapter of the 2016 annual report of the Expert Council of German Foundations for Integration and Migration (SVR).

On the effect of religion on social cohesion

The question of whether religious pluralization and intensely lived religiosity promote or endanger social cohesion cannot be answered categorically. Both positive and negative effects are discussed and proven in the literature.

For one positive effect From religion to the cohesion of society as a whole, it is argued, among other things, that religious communities can make a decisive contribution to a functioning civil society, since social commitment and tolerance towards other groups are essential elements of religious communities [1]. This is confirmed by studies in Europe which show that active religious participation in particular has a positive influence on trust in fellow human beings or members of other religions. [2]

A possible negative effect However, religious communities can develop social cohesion if they isolate themselves from the outside world and form "parallel societies" that are religiously or ideologically different from one another. [3] Accordingly, European studies indicate that it is not religious plurality in and of itself that has a negative effect on the social context, but rather a strong bond with one's own religious community and an associated demarcation. [4]

On the effect of religion on social participation

The question of the extent to which religion or intensely lived religiosity promotes or inhibits social participation is much older than the discussion about the integration of immigrants. She has been researching at the latest since Max Weber's thesis about a positive effect of a work ethic anchored in Protestantism on individual professional success [5].

For one positive effect speaks among other things that religions can prescribe a certain moral order, which can have a positive effect on the way of life and thus on participation in society. In addition, it can be assumed that certain (social) skills are learned in the religious community that have a positive influence on participation in a society. [6]

For one negative effectsg of religiosity, among other things, prevailing ideas about gender roles are cited in certain religious communities, which in particular can inhibit the participation opportunities of their female members. [7] Furthermore, it is stated that the social inclusion in an externally demarcating religious community guarantees a high degree of participation within the respective community, but at the expense of extra-community activity and participation. In relation to immigrants, time-consuming religious activity can inhibit participation in the host society. This can happen if there are insufficient (time) resources available for the acquisition of participatory skills (language, education, etc.) due to religious activity. [8] On the other hand, the assumptions of the majority society about certain religions or their members can make social participation more difficult, regardless of how religious the individual actually is. For example, the majority of society in Europe has shown the least trust in Muslims since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. [9]

Relationship between religiosity and participation in education

With regard to possible connections between religiosity and participation in central areas of social life, the research situation in the USA is significantly better than in Germany or Europe. However, the existing US studies only look at migration-specific aspects in exceptional cases.

In relation to educational participation in the USA, it was found that stronger religious participation goes hand in hand with better school performance, higher educational aspirations, longer school attendance and a lower probability of dropping out of school prematurely. [10] Negative relationships between religious affiliation and educational success were found in the USA for individual highly religious denominations, e.g. evangelical Protestants or Mormons. [11] In relation to immigrants, a positive correlation between religious participation and academic success as well as educational aspirations was demonstrated among Vietnamese high school students. [12] In addition, children and young people from immigrant families in the USA who belong to one of the major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism) have a significantly higher level of education than those who do not belong to any of these religions. [13]

For the German context, only a few studies indicate a significant relationship between religion and participation in education. So far there are hardly any reliable empirical findings that cannot be generalized as they are based on limited samples. The identified connections between religion and participation in education in individual birth cohorts, e.g. a lower level of education for members of the Catholic Church, are comparatively weak. [14] Differences in the educational participation of individual religious groups can essentially be traced back to socio-demographic differences between the groups. [15] With regard to a connection between an Islamic religious affiliation and a low level of education, it can be seen that, after checking social structural characteristics, young people from Muslim families have "no statistically lower high school rates" than young people from Catholic or Protestant parental homes. [16]

Relationship between religiosity and labor force participation

With a view to labor force participation, the research literature for Germany and Europe is manageable. Existing studies focus on women's participation in employment related to religious affiliation. You find a lower labor market participation of women in Catholic countries compared to Protestant countries. In addition, they point to a positive connection between Protestant religious affiliation and women's desire to work or a positive attitude towards employment by women. [17] Studies on differences in participation between immigrants and the majority population show that in North America and Western Europe neither religious affiliation nor regular attendance at church services explain the differences in the professional success of individual groups. [18] Analyzes in Germany indicate, however, that religious affiliation and piety have a negative impact on labor market integration - at least for female immigrants: Both Christian and Muslim women - under the control of other factors such as age, education, region of origin - with increasing Piety is accompanied by lower labor market participation. The significantly lower employment of Muslim women, especially those who wear a headscarf, compared to Christians of the same origin, which was also found to be significantly less frequent, is primarily attributed to the more pronounced gender roles among Muslims. [19] Other research results also show: The varying degrees of success in the labor market of Muslim immigrants and locals is more likely to be attributed to socio-cultural factors (e.g. gender roles, language use, consumption of media in the host country, etc.) than to discrimination. [20]

Relationship between religiosity and civil society and social participation

With regard to the connection between religiosity and participation in civil society, various studies - in particular by Richard Traunmüller [21] - have increasingly closed existing research gaps in Germany and Europe. Among other things, they point out that both subjective religiosity and religious practice can have a positive effect on participation in civil society in Germany "in many ways". [22] There is, among other things, a positive connection between religiosity and active involvement in civil society organizations, with the restriction that "regular voluntary work is primarily promoted by Christian religiosity, but not by Islamic". [23] In addition, frequent church services go hand in hand with a larger network of friends and a greater ability to establish new social relationships, especially among Protestants and people of Islamic faith. [24] Further analyzes show, however, for the group of highly religious Muslims that - even after taking social origin into account - social integration (networks, i.e., for example, groups of friends and acquaintances in the majority society in Germany) and cultural integration (knowledge of German and their Use in everyday life, cultural habits) is much less pronounced. [25]

Relationship between religiosity and democratic distance as well as delinquency

The question of how religiosity and non-democratic attitudes are related is often discussed, among other things because the latter is also seen as a potential indicator of radicalization. Overall, it is true that highly religious people tend to have attitudes that are far from democratic. [26] Studies on Muslims in Germany have shown a connection between religious fundamentalism and distance from democracy. [27] However, cross-country studies also show that "Western" and "Islamic" societies differ only slightly in terms of their political-democratic values ​​and instead show similar attitudes, e.g. with regard to the importance of democracy and the advocacy of democratic ideals. [28]

In addition to the connections between religion and attitudes towards democracy, numerous studies deal with the connection between religion and delinquency: meta-analyzes and longitudinal studies in the USA find a delinquency-reducing effect of religion. [29] Studies carried out in Germany often contrast an allegedly delinquency-promoting Muslim religiosity with an allegedly unproblematic Christian religiosity. [30] In the area of ​​violent delinquency (robbery, bodily harm, etc.), a violence-reducing influence of religion can be determined for non-Muslim persons as well as for Muslim girls, which, however, cannot be observed in Muslim men. [31] This is attributed, among other things, to traditional notions of masculinity [32], which are associated with greater religiousness among young Muslims. [33]


With regard to the connection between religion or religiosity and integration, some findings can now be regarded as certain, but others have not so far: it has been comparatively well proven that individual religiosity in the form of active religious participation has a positive influence on trust in fellow human beings and thus social cohesion. Furthermore, it could be shown that religious pluralism does not pose a general threat to social cohesion within a society. However, a strong demarcation between religious communities can have a negative impact on social cohesion.

In addition, the available empirical findings suggest that individual religiosity or religious affiliation has almost no effect on the social participation of believers if their social background is taken into account. This applies in particular to participation in education and the labor market: in these areas, identifiable religion- or religiosity-dependent differences can primarily be explained by gender roles that predominate in certain groups. There is a need for further research in the area of ​​delinquency: it has been proven in principle that religiosity has a preventive effect, i.e. it prevents delinquency. However, this effect cannot be found in young male Muslims, which is attributed to ideas of masculinity that are dominant in this group. Based on the empirical findings on the connection between religion and participation, it can be concluded that the importance of religion for social participation is generally overestimated. Instead, it is rather the social background that determines the opportunities for participation.

This article is part of the policy brief Perspectives on the Integration of Refugees in Germany.