The pandemic has already wreaked economic havoc on families and communities across the country. Businesses have had to close their doors, and many workers have been laid off. Unemployment claims totaled 17 million over the last three reported weeks—an unprecedented, record-breaking number.
Though the pandemic continues to generate economic costs, the costs to society aren’t simply economic; research suggests that financial hardship and unemployment lower subjective well-being, measured by self-reported happiness and life satisfaction. It’s likely that, for a variety of economic and non-economic reasons, subjective well-being will fall in coming months.
Religion may provide an important antidote to declining well-being: studies have consistently documented a positive relationship between religiosity and hope, optimism, and the ability to cope with adversity. This isn’t surprising—religion often provides the social insurance, connection, and sense of purpose that are ordinarily useful but especially valuable in the midst of challenges.
Research indicates that religious observance may even help adherents overcome reductions in well-being associated with other areas of life. A widely-cited study in The Quarterly Journal of Economics found that longer fasting during Ramadan raised subjective wellbeing among Muslims despite causing an economic output loss in Muslim countries. The study suggests that, at least in certain contexts, the increases in well-being associated with religious practice can be meaningful enough to counteract reductions in well-being associated with lower GDP growth.
Past Social Capital Project research highlights the predictive relationship between religious participation, measures of well-being, and various social-capital-building behaviors. The Social Capital Project’s recent paper, The Space Between: Renewing the American Tradition of Civil Society, notes:
Although most American religious denominations have temporarily stopped gathering in person, many religious communities are adapting to provide continued opportunities for participation, and meet the spiritual and physical needs of their communities.
Examples abound, from livestreamed sermons to food collection drives for needy families to drive-thru confessions. Co-religionists use teleconferencing services to hold virtual prayer circles and study holy texts. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has leveraged its resources to provide emergency supplies and medical equipment not only in Utah, but also in countries across the world.
These initiatives suggest religious organizations are finding new ways to support members’ well-being during social distancing. As the crisis continues to unfold, church leaders and members will need to continue to ensure religion provides purpose, strength, and security amid difficult and uncertain times.