From Faith to Works

How Religion Inspires Confidence, Community, and Sacrifice

by Michael K. Abel (Author)
©2019 Monographs XVIII, 154 Pages


In From Faith to Works: How Religion Inspires Confidence, Community, and Sacrifice, Michael K. Abel builds on key principles from past theories of religion and group solidarity to determine the origins of religious confidence and explain the essential role doctrinal content plays in the establishment of cohesive religious communities. This book addresses an enduring question: Why do people sacrifice their own personal interests to conform to religious expectations? While religious adherents have long acknowledged their faith as a primary motivator of action, social scientists have tended to minimize its importance. From Faith to Works rectifies this shortcoming by placing faith at the center of its analysis. The information presented in this book will appeal to readers of all faiths as well as those of no faith. Combining theoretical arguments and compelling statistics, From Faith to Works proves a fascinating and unique contribution to social scientific thinking on religion.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. The Problem of Sacrifice
  • Chapter 2. Foundations of Religious Confidence
  • Chapter 3. Faith Building at Home
  • Chapter 4. Principles of Faith-Based Solidarity
  • Chapter 5. Determinants of Donation and Service
  • Chapter 6. Judaic Retention and Community
  • Chapter 7. Suicidal and Secular Sacrifice
  • Chapter 8. Rethinking Solidarity and Sacrifice
  • Appendix A: Definitions and Propositions
  • Appendix B: Regression Analyses
  • Index

| xi →


Table 3.1. Religious Confidence by Religious Affiliation.

Table 3.2. Having Family Prayers and Teen Religious Confidence.

Table 3.3. Frequency of Family Spiritual Discussions and Teen Religious Confidence.

Table 3.4. Receiving an Answer to Prayer and Teen Religious Confidence.

Table 3.5. Witnessing a Miracle and Teen Religious Confidence.

Table 3.6. Having a Powerful Spiritual Experience and Teen Religious Confidence.

Table 5.1. Belief in Heaven and Religious Contribution.

Table 5.2. View of Religious Salvation and Religious Contribution.

Table 5.3. Belief in an Involved God and Religious Contribution.

Table 5.4. Denominational Variation in Religious Contribution.

Table 6.1. Current Religious Preference of American Jews.

Table 6.2. Demographic Characteristics of Jews.

Table 6.3. Social Involvement and Secular Benefits of Jews.

Table 6.4. Outward Practice, Social Encapsulation, and Religious Capital Investment. ← xi | xii →

Table A.1. Descriptions of Variables in the Model of Religious Confidence.

Table A.2. Relative Odds of Having High Religious Confidence.

Table A.3. Descriptions of Variables in the Model of Religious Contribution.

Table A.4. Determinants of Financial Donation and Church Attendance.

Table A.5. Determinants of Volunteering and Faith Sharing.

| xiii →


Any book that tries to tackle the topic of religion scientifically is in danger of giving the wrong impression and overstepping the bounds of empirical inquiry. For this reason, I have always appreciated the subtitle of Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion, wherein Rodney Stark and Roger Finke outline their groundbreaking theory of religion (2000). By clearly and openly asserting that their book focuses only on investigating the human side of religion, they avoided the unnecessary tendency of social scientific theories of religion to dismiss or dispute supernatural claims made by religious groups and believers. Indeed, striving to understand the human element of religion is all social science research can do. Testing the validity of non-empirical, otherworldly, and supernatural claims made by religion is problematic given the nature of scientific tools. For example, there is no scientific experiment that I know of that can absolutely verify whether God exists. To measure the absence of something, there must be a means for measuring its presence. Without such a mechanism, the validity of both atheism and faith in God are currently unverifiable using the scientific method.

Likewise, we can never use the scientific method to answer what many people consider to be the most important and enduring questions: why are we here?, what are we supposed to do?, and what happens after we die? Indeed, ← xiii | xiv → the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was right when he wrote, “We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all” (1922: 6.52; emphasis in the original). Of course, scientific evidence can be used to establish the causal factors that result in certain social and even religious outcomes, but no amount of scientific exploration can ever tell us whether or not any particular outcome is good or evil, or whether good and evil exist at all. The answer to questions of moral right and wrong reside in the realm of religious, spiritual, and philosophical inquiry, not the methods of science. For example, a scientific analysis could help us understand which factors increase the likelihood of childhood death, but it could not prove whether those factors are evil or whether the death of children is morally bad. While I am sure almost all would argue that factors resulting in the death of children should be reduced or eliminated, the moral rightness of that conclusion is not verifiable using the scientific method.

Essentially, science is limited by its requirement for evidence that can be seen, verified, and agreed upon by others. While I accept, abide by, and find this characteristic of the scientific method crucial when it comes to communicating information and securing some level of consensus about how the world works, it seems confining to ignore the role that inspiration, emotion, spirituality, and other types of subjective observations and even private affirmations can play in helping us understand a world of diverse human experiences and views. Ultimately, we need not restrict ourselves as individuals to the narrow, scientific meaning of “truth” as only things that can be communicated and proven to others.

While I am a scientist and I value the many wonderful contributions of science, in my personal life I choose not to be confined by the scientific method in my pursuit of knowledge. I believe there is more to life than what science can prove. Consequently, in writing this book and in exploring the sociological origins of confidence in religious teachings and its impact, I am not putting the validity of my or anyone else’s religious beliefs on trial. In my exploration of the social factors that promote faith in supernatural phenomena including God, heaven, and angels, nothing I explain or show precludes or promotes the possibility of their existence. Indeed, logical and proven explanation never rules out alternative explanations, especially in social science where we almost never account for even half of the variation of a given outcome.

I encourage all who read this book to look to a variety of resources and methods when seeking answers to the most important questions and to have ← xiv | xv → hope that such answers can be found. While I believe the ideas and explanations presented in this book can help us better understand some aspects of the human side of what makes religion so compelling in the lives of the vast majority of people on our planet, I would be disappointed if anyone came to final conclusions about the validity of religion’s supernatural claims on the basis of what my analysis reveals. I hope in your own search for truth you will transcend the limits of the scientific method and consider what faith, art, emotion, imagination, philosophy, intuition, and other ways of knowing have to offer as you explore the deeper meanings of life. In other words, my hope is that you will always keep a truly open mind.

Michael K. Abel, October 2018


XVIII, 154
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVIII, 154 pp., 19 tables

Biographical notes

Michael K. Abel (Author)

MICHAEL K. ABEL (PhD, University of Washington) is Professor of Sociology at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He has published extensively on the subjects of religiosity, faith, and morality, including the book America Versus the Ten Commandments with Brent J. Schmidt.


Title: From Faith to Works
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
174 pages