Funder: Science of Generosity/Templeton-Notre Dame

This project is funded by Science of Generosity, an initiative of the University of Notre and John Templeton Foundation aimed at fostering sustained reflection on the value our society places on generosity, voluntary financial giving, altruism, informal helping, relational self-giving, and other generosity-related practices.

Carolyn Warner, Professor, School of Politics & Global Studies, Arizona State University
Adam Cohen, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University
Ramazan Kilinc, Post-doctoral Fellow, Michigan State University

World-wide charitable giving is heavily dependent upon the generosity of the major world religions. Despite the fact that religions have charity and giving as virtues and obligations, the causal mechanisms of the generosity of their adherents and organizations are not well understood. What specific religious beliefs and institutions promote generosity? Do these vary across religious traditions? Do religions promote generosity toward their own members as well as others, or do religions tend to favor their own? How, if at all, do taxation, social welfare arrangements and religion-state regulations affect the generosity of adherents of different religions?

As major world religions with a growing share of the world population (approximately 1.1 billion Catholics and 1.5 billion Muslims), understanding the conditions that foster or hinder generosity among Catholics and Muslims and by the Catholic Church and Islamic organizations is crucial. Our project will contribute significantly to an emerging science of generosity through comparative, collaborative and cross-disciplinary work. Our team of political scientists and social psychologists will carry out the investigation through experiments conducted on site in two countries with university students and members of the general population, and case studies of mosque and parish communities in four European countries. By combining these methods, our program of research gives serious, sustained attention to questions of religious influences on specific causal motives and propensities towards generosity, and on the external contexts that may promote or hinder generosity. Furthermore, most studies of religious giving have focused on Christian religions, and the bulk of those on religions in the United States. This project expands the scope by taking Europe as its locus, focusing on Catholicism and Islam in Ireland, France, Italy and Turkey, and by looking explicitly at generosity.

In addition to the substantive aims of the project, its broader merits include: 

  1. training of young scholars—our team includes an assistant professor, a post-doc, Ph.D. students, and undergraduates in our disciplines and related fields—in interdisciplinary methods; 
  2. inclusion of diverse cultural and religious perspectives in research design and implementation; 
  3. enhancing national and international scientific cooperation through connections with researchers and institutions in the US and Europe; 
  4.  bringing the study of generosity and religion explicitly into the fields of psychology and political science.
  5. Finally, this project has policy ramifications for understanding a range of acts of giving, as it focuses on mainstream Catholics and Muslims, not just extremist minorities. Our approach, in addition to providing critical theoretical tests, might also be considered early-generation tests of interventions relevant to increasing generosity.