New Study Probes Beliefs about God's Influence in Everyday Life

Eight in ten Americans say they depend on God for help and guidance in making decisions, according to new research stemming from two national surveys.

Sociology Professor Scott Schieman of the University of Toronto also found that 71 of Americans believe that when good or bad things happen, the occurrences are simply part of God’s plan for them.

“This study extends sociological inquiry into the ways that people of different social strata think about God’s influence in everyday life,” commented Schieman, whose study was published in the March issue of the journal Sociology of Religion.

“Given the frequency of God talk in American culture, especially in some areas of political discourse, this is an increasingly important area for researchers to document, describe, and interpret,” he added.

For the study, Schieman examined the differences in beliefs about God’s influence in everyday life across levels of socioeconomic status (SES) and whether that association is contingent upon religious involvement (i.e., frequency of praying, attendance, reading religious texts, and subjective religiosity).

Using data from two national 2005 surveys of Americans – namely the Baylor Religion Survey and the Work, Stress, and Health Survey – Schieman observed how, overall, SES is associated negatively with beliefs in divine involvement and control, and how, with the exception of reading religious texts, each indicator of religious involvement is associated with higher levels of beliefs in divine involvement or divine control.

“SES interacts with each dimension of religious involvement such that the negative association between SES and divine involvement or control is attenuated at higher levels of religious involvement,” Schieman noted in the abstract for the report.

That means that while, overall, people who have more education and higher income are less likely to report beliefs of divine intervention, those who are more involved in religious rituals share similar levels of beliefs about divine intervention as their less-educated and less financially well-off peers.

"Many of us might assume that people of higher social class standing tend to reject beliefs about divine intervention,” Schieman commented. “However, my findings indicate that while this is true among those less committed to religious life, it is not the case for people who are more committed to religious participation and rituals.”

Other findings of the study include the percent of Americans who believe that God has determined the direction and course of their lives (61 percent) and the percent of people who agree with this statement: “There is no sense in planning a lot because ultimately my fate is in God’s hands” (32 percent).

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