Religion and Altruism

Keishin Inaba and Kate Loewenthal

in The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199588961
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

Religion and Altruism


This article explores the relationship between religion and altruism, a research concern identified and pursued by classical sociologists including Max Weber, and one of interest and concern today, especially in societies where the building of social capital encounters serious obstacles. It points out that while early research was rather muddled about the correlation between religion and altruism, research since the 1980s has been less ambiguous in suggesting that religion is likely to play a causal role in promoting altruism. The article explores the relationship between religion and altruism using three sources. First, it examines religious teachings and prescriptions about altruism. Second, the article examines social-scientific definitions and explanations of altruism and altruistic behaviour. Third, it examines the research evidence on the relationship between religion and altruism, and attempts to draw conclusions.

Keywords: altruism; classical sociologists; Max Weber; social capital; altruistic behaviour

Article.  6228 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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