Purdue University Graduate School
Marshall-dissertation.pdf (1005.41 kB)

Religious Commitment and Existential Insecurity in the United States

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posted on 2020-12-15, 22:27 authored by Joe D MarshallJoe D Marshall
This dissertation presents a quantitative analysis of religious commitment among U.S. adults who were polled in nationally representative surveys between 1984 and 2010. The three studies presented in this dissertation investigate two key research questions. First, are people in the United States more religiously committed, on average, when they live in geographic areas (e.g., counties and cities) where local indicators of human development such as life expectancy, education and income are relatively low? Prior research has found a robust cross-national relationship between human development and religiosity, but little evidence has been presented that suggests the same relationship exists at the level of subnational geographies. Second, if such a relationship exists, are the reasons for the statistical link between human development and religiosity attributable to the theoretical explanations in the extant literature? Are people living in poverty and poor health more likely to be religious because they fear for their security? The results presented in this dissertation suggest, first, that a strong and robust association exists between the levels of human development in U.S. counties and cities and the levels of religious commitment reported by survey respondents who lived in those areas. On average, U.S. adults tended to self-identify with a religious group, report strong affiliation with their religious group, pray more frequently, attend religious services more regularly and hold more supernaturalistic religious views when they lived in geographic areas with relatively low levels of human development. Second, there is little evidence for the explanatory chain predicted by the literature. Individual-level measures of psychological distress do not mediate the relationship between human development and religious commitment as the existential insecurity literature would expect. Instead, what this dissertation finds is that the effect of human development on individual level religiosity seems to be mediated mostly by aggregate-level insecurity rather than individual-level insecurity.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Sociology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Daniel V. A. Olson

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Shawn G. Bauldry

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Kevin Stainback

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Daniel Winchester

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