Here's hoping... Photo by Erik Ingram via
Here’s hoping… Photo by Erik Ingram via

This year’s hot trend in religion research is definitely the “spiritual but not religious” (SNBRs), a growing group of Americans who choose not to affiliate with any particular religious tradition, but don’t want to take the plunge into full-blown atheism. While a lot of scholars are still working through the concept, this new identity label is already cropping up in all kinds of research. How do SNBRs feel about religious practices like prayer, are they a stronger political force than conservative Christians, and—most recently—are they even more criminal than their religious peers?

A recent report from the science news website starts in on this latest question with research from Baylor sociologists Sung Joon Jang and Aaron Franzen.

Young adults who deem themselves “spiritual but not religious” are more likely to commit property crimes than those who identify themselves as either “religious and spiritual” or “religious but not spiritual”… a fourth category—who say they are neither spiritual nor religious—are less likely to commit property crimes than the “spiritual but not religious” individuals.

Franzen suggests that the SBNR identity reflects weaker ties to social networks that may prevent these crimes:

We were thinking that religious people would have an institutional and communal attachment and investment, while the spiritual people would have more of an independent identity.

Of course, this doesn’t quite explain why those who were neither spiritual nor religious were less likely to commit crimes than the SBNRs. The next question is whether strong ties to religion actually prevent crime, or just show up after criminals have been caught.