The Contribution of Religion to Social Capital in the Context of a Global Neighbourhood: Possibilities and Challenges


  • Philip Hughes


This essay begins by looking at the nature of social capital and the ways that religion contributes to and undermines social capital. The paper draws on data from a survey on religion and community undertaken in Australia by Edith Cowan University and NCLS Research in 1997 and 1998 showing that religious belief and practice relate to the affirmation of the values of altruism and helpfulness and to participation in voluntary activities for the sake of the well-being of individuals and the wider community. However, the survey suggests that religion does not contribute to trust, and can, in certain circumstances, contribute to distrust. Nor does it contribute to confidence in organisations and expert systems. Similarly, in terms of the global arena, it is evident that religions continue to contribute to distrust. Yet, there are signs that religions can rise above their differences, pointing to universal ethical principles and dimensions of spirituality that transcend particular religious expressions. Religious organisations can also contribute to social capital by cooperating with each other as they seek the common good.