Baylor University researchers have revealed that young adults who deem themselves "spiritual but not religious" are more likely to commit property crimes - and to a lesser extent, violent ones - than those who identify themselves as either "religious and spiritual" or "religious but not spiritual.
The sociologists' study also showed that those in a fourth category - who say they are neither spiritual nor religious -are less likely to commit property crimes than the "spiritual but not religious" individuals. But no difference was found between the two groups when it came to violent crimes.
Sung Joon Jang, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology in Baylor's College of Arts 'n' Sciences and lead author of the study, noted that until the 20th century, the terms "religious" and "spiritual" were treated as interchangeable.
The researchers analyzed data from a sample of 14,322 individuals from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They ranged in age from 18 to 28, with an average age of 21.8.
In their study, the Baylor researchers hypothesized that those who are spiritual but not religious would be less conventional than the religious group - but could be either more or less conventional than the "neither" group.
Theories for why religious people are less likely to commit crime are that they fear "supernatural sanctions" as well as criminal punishment and feel shame about deviance; are bonded to conventional society; exercise high self-control in part because of parents who also are likely to be religious; and associate with peers who reinforce their behavior and beliefs.
Significantly, people who are spiritual but not religious tend to have lower self-control than those who are religious. They also are more likely to experience such strains as criminal victimization and such negative emotions as depression and anxiety.
They also are more likely to have peers who use and abuse alcohol, said Baylor researcher Aaron Franzen, a doctoral candidate and study co-author.Those factors are predictors of criminal behavior.
The study was published in the journal Criminology.