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Substitution or Symbiosis? Assessing the Relationship between Religious and Secular Giving

Brandon Vaidyanathan

Research on philanthropy has not sufficiently examined whether charitable giving to religious causes impinges on giving to secular causes. Examining three waves of national panel data, we find that the relationship between religious and secular giving is generally not of a zero-sum nature; families that increase their religious giving also increase their secular giving. We argue that this finding is best accounted for by a practice theory of social action which emphasizes how religious congregations foster skills and practices related to charitable giving. We also argue that denominational variation in the influence of religious giving is best accounted for by the financial structuring of the denomination. We conclude with the implications for studies of religious causal influence more generally.

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