Religious pluralism and participation: why previous research is wrong

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

April 1, 2001


Does religious pluralism undermine or promote religious involvement?. Some secularization theories contend that diversity breeds loss of belief and lower participation. The religious economies model counters that involvement is boosted by the availability of alternative religious suppliers and the competition that results, with each group working harder to gain adherents. The issue is sufficiently important that a recent review found 193 tests of this question in 26 published articles. Almost all of these findings (both positive arid negative) should be abandoned. The associations reported do not reflect the effects of pluralism but a previously overlooked mathematical relationship between measures of religious participation and the index of pluralism. Even when pluralism has no effect on participation, the correlation between these two variables is likely to be non zero. The sign and magnitude of this expected correlation depends on the nature of the size distributions of the religious groups across the areas studied. Results from several frequently cited studies closely atch what would be expected from chance alone. Various alternative methods for studying pluralism in future research are examined, but currently there is no compelling evidence that religious pluralism has any effect on religious involvement.

Published in

American Sociological Review

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 67 , p.212 -231






Online ASL -



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