The halo effect? An ecological analysis of the religion-crime nexus
This dissertation endeavors to examine the influence that the sacred plays in society by determining if religion’s institutional position as displayed through the presence of the moral communities is pivotal to society’s ability to control criminal behavior. Throughout academic history, there have been various analyses of the religious experience, particularly at the community level. Nevertheless, the ecological examination of religion’s social impact on criminal behavior through both formal and informal social control mechanisms appears relatively neglected by the academic community. This dissertation empirically surveys the ecological distribution of criminal behavior across communities in the United States to determine if the moral community has a significant impact on deterring unlawful conduct. Specifically, this dissertation hypothesizes that a higher religious presence (i.e., a greater prevalence of religiously-centered organizations and their recognized followers) has an inverse association with reported incidences of criminal behavior (reported by official criminal incidents and arrest statistics) among counties in the U.S. over a 20-year time frame. By utilizing general least squares regression techniques in determining the associations, the present study’s results indicate a mixed outcome, which would appear to be supported by previous literature on this phenomenon. A discussion of these results will lay the foundation for future exploration of this effect.