New paper on ‘Corruption, Religion and Moral Development’

RaD working paper version – Corruption, Religion & Moral Development

This is a paper that I’ll be publishing shortly as a working paper for the Religions and Development (RaD) working paper series and then will be submitting to a journal. In the meantime, I’d welcome any comments!


Lacking in much of the current research on religion and corruption is a sense that there may be alternative ways that people view corruption, which in their minds may be moral, and that if we are to truly develop an understanding of how religion may influence peoples’ attitudes and behaviour towards corruption, we must start from a critical and interpretive perspective at the individual level of analysis. This paper argues that the methodologies used in many current studies are not adequate to study what is ultimately an individual level decision, and one that is at least in part informed by one’s own ethical and moral standpoint.  As such, starting research with the mindset that particular types of activities are corrupt, and thus ‘wrong’, may prevent researchers from uncovering why people develop particular attitudes towards corruption, or why they choose to behave in a way we would recognise as corrupt. If corruption research is to explore some of these issues at the individual level, as well as the regional and national levels, it is important to look at the literature on how attitudes are formed, in relation to religion, and the impact that religion has on attitudes towards moral issues and on moral reasoning. This paper looks at a number of studies, few of which deal specifically with corruption, in order to establish useful ways forward for corruption researchers. Research on religion and attitudes towards deviant behaviour shows that individuals’ interpretation of messages on moral behaviour is significant in terms of determining acceptance or rejection of deviancy, but there is little evidence to suggest that the religious will reject behaviour that is ‘anti-social’ any more than the non-religious. Indeed, there is little evidence to suggest that religion, in terms of religious content, impacts upon individuals’ attitudes towards public morality. Membership of a religious community that rejects behaviour seen as being ‘corrupt’ seems more likely to have an impact, but a lot depends upon the way in which members of the community are encouraged (or discouraged) to prioritise principled reasoning.

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