A new study from Baylor University shows that Americans from age 18 to 28 who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" are more likely to commit violent crimes and property crimes than their "religious" counterparts.
"The notion of being spiritual but not associated with any organized religion has become increasingly popular, and our question is how that is different from being religious, whether you call yourself ‘spiritual' or not," said Sung Joon Jang, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences.
Jang is lead author of the study, "Is Being ‘Spiritual' Enough Without Being Religious? A Study of Violent and Property Crimes Among Emerging Adults."
The study, published in the journal Criminology, also showed 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.
Past research recorded that about 10 percent of the population considers themselves "spiritual," according to the release.
The sample was broken up into four groups who self-identified: 11.5 percent were "Spiritual but not religious," 6.8 percent were "Religious but not spiritual," 37.9 percent were "Both spiritual and religious" and 43.8 percent were "Neither spiritual nor religious."
The 14,322 sample was gathered from 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 the confidential survey, participants were asked how often they had committed crimes in the past year, such as assault, armed robbery, vandalism, theft and burglary.
Previous research indicated that people who say they are religious show lower levels of crime and deviance, according to the written release.
"Calling oneself ‘spiritual but not religious' turned out to more of an antisocial characteristic, unlike identifying oneself as religious," said Baylor researcher Aaron Franzen, a doctoral candidate and study co-author, in the written release. "We were thinking that religious people would have an institutional and communal attachment and investment, while the spiritual people would have more of an independent identity."
Theories for why religious people are less likely to commit crime include a 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.
The research indicated those who are spiritual but not religious exhibit less control, are more likely to experience such strains as criminal victimization, depression and anxiety.
"They tend to have a risky lifestyle," Jang said. "We asked them how often they had been mugged, stabbed, shot. And if you are victimized, you often retaliate."
The "spiritual but not religious" group has yet to be extensively researched, Jang said. He hopes to study the group's alcohol and drug use in the future.