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Religiosity and Generosity: Multi-Level Approaches to Studying the Religiousness of Prosocial Actions

Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, IUPUI, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA
Wits Business School, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 2000, South Africa
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Religions 2020, 11(9), 446;
Received: 1 July 2020 / Revised: 6 August 2020 / Accepted: 20 August 2020 / Published: 31 August 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Global Understandings of Religiosity and Generosity)


This paper provides a meta-analysis of the intersection of (a) religiosity and spirituality with (b) generosity, philanthropy, nonprofits, and prosociality. The study is informed by three informational sources, chronologically: (1) informational interviews with scholars and practitioners based within and studying regions outside of the U.S. and Western Europe; (2) discovery search of purposefully selected extant publications, especially focusing on the last decade of contemporary scholarship; and (3) systematic search of relevant peer-reviewed publication outlets since 2010. Reviewed publications are categorized by level of analysis into macro, meso, and micro approaches. Across each level and source, publications are also geo-tagged for their geographic scope. Particular attention is paid to the under-studied world regions of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. The results reveal that Asia is the most studied and Latin America the least studied, and that meso-level approaches are the most common while micro-level are the least common. Additionally, a map of publication counts reveals within-region inequalities by country. Implications of the analysis are drawn for future studies, particularly ways to advance this interdisciplinary field.

Table of Contents
1. Introduction  3.1.2. Meso-Level Intersections
1.1. Philanthropy, Generosity, and Prosociality Meso Religion, Giving, and Volunteering
1.2. Levels of Analysis Meso Religion and Civic Engagement
  1.2.1. Macro-Level Generosity Meso Religion and NGOs
  1.2.2. Meso-Level Generosity Meso Religion and Conflict
  1.2.3. Micro-Level Generosity  3.1.3. Micro-Level Intersections
2. Methods Micro Religion, Giving, Volunteering
2.1. Discovery Search Micro Religion, Altruism, and Helping
2.2. Systematic Search  3.1.4. Summary of Discovery Results
  2.2.1. JSSR3.2. Systematic Search Results
  2.2.2. Voluntas  3.2.1. JSSR
2.3. Informational Interviews  3.2.2. Voluntas
  2.3.1. Researcher Positionality3.3. Informational Interviews
  2.3.2. Informational Interview Process  3.3.1. Philanthropy
2.4. Geographic Scope  3.3.2. Generosity
3. Results  3.3.3. Religiosity
3.1. Discovery Search Results  3.3.4. Spirituality
  3.1.1. Macro-Level Intersections3.4. Geographic Scope Macro-Level Religion and Trust  3.4.1. Africa Macro-Level Religion and Volunteering  3.4.2. Asia Macro-Level Religion and Civil Society  3.4.3. Latin America
  3.4.4. Middle East
4. Discussion

1. Introduction

What is known in extant scholarship about the religiousness (or not) of prosocial actions? To answer this question, this article aims to synthesize approaches to studying the intersection between religiosity and generosity. Prior to reviewing approaches at the intersection of these topics, it is first necessary to review each in turn. In terms of religiosity, an expansive view connects the concept with the idea of the “meaning of life,” and Oviedo-Torró (2019) identifies this as entailing three realms: (a) the semantic realm—the exact meaning of the words in religious texts; (b) the hermeneutic and historic realm—placing events and information in context; and (c) the anthropologic realm—the meaning that religious interactions manifest. Moreover, Roszak (2020) describes religiosity as being both implicit and explicit. The implicit aspects are the actions taken by an individual which demonstrate an internal faith, while explicit aspects are more overt, such as reading sacred texts or pursuing justice. The link between religiosity and prosociality reflects both implicit and explicit faith. The implicit aspects spur individuals and organizations to experience a call to serve others, and explicit aspects are the actions that are taken. For more information on this topic, see the reviews of scholarship on religiosity and spirituality in this special issue (Herzog 2020; Herzog et al. 2020). In this article, the first step is to attend to studies of generosity, philanthropy, and prosociality generally. Then the intersection of religiosity and generosity is examined through a systematic analysis of existing publications. In the review, the focus is on three facets: (1) the level of analysis, (2) intersections with religiosity or spirituality, and (3) non-Western geographic scopes.
Importantly, interest in the potential intersection between religiosity and generosity does not imply that a connection necessarily exists, nor that if it does that the relationship is positive or normatively beneficial to society. Rather, studying the potential intersection between religiosity and generosity includes: (a) positive, (b) neutral, and (c) negative relationships. In terms of potentially positive social outcomes, religiosity can foster generosity. For example, religious socialization during childhood and adolescence can lead to a life-time of giving, and participation in religious congregations can undergird one of the largest subsectors of nongovernmental organizations. Yet, even those potentially positive outcomes of religiosity are only positive insofar as the ends of that giving and nongovernmental support produce a social good. Nevertheless, more overtly neutral approaches to studying the intersection of these topics also exist. For example, generous participation in religious organizations, such as volunteering and charitable giving to religious causes, can result in strengthening of religious organizations. Some groups in society view that to be positive, and others negative. Social scientists find both co-occur, such as through the promotion of in-group and out-group dynamics that foster community among the insiders and exclusion, conflict, even ostracism for outsiders. Additionally, overtly negative outcomes of the intersection are also found: e.g., authoritarian religious regimes restrict freedoms; religiosity can promote anti-social behaviors in some participants. Studying relationships of religiosity and generosity includes all these varieties.

1.1. Philanthropy, Generosity, and Prosociality

This section provides a general overview of the topics of generosity, philanthropy, and prosociality (for additional information on global philanthropy, see Wiepking and Handy 2015; also see TC 2018 for a global redefinition of philanthropy). Altruism is a topic that has captivated interest in a range of disciplines, including philosophy and evolutionary biology (e.g., Radovanović 2019a). One of the most common topics within the study of philanthropy is charitable giving. For example, Noetel et al. (2020) reviewed 466 publications for factors influencing charitable giving and selected 14 meta-analyses that synthesized data on 1,510,966 respondents. Among these, the top factors increasing donations were tax deductibility, “encouraging women to make intuitive judgments,” and legitimizing contributions, while compassion fade and larger asks reduced propensity to donate. Another common topic is corporate philanthropy: employee contributions. One example of work-based donations comes from Vlaholias et al. (2015), who studied food redistribution. Another common approach is to measure the size and scope of the voluntary sector, including, in particular, studying government-registered charities and nonprofit organizations (e.g., Dreessen 2000; Casey 2016). Already these examples illustrate that the topics of philanthropy and prosociality can be studied across a range of levels.

1.2. Levels of Analysis

This section reviews common approaches to the study of generosity, philanthropy, and prosociality across multiple levels of analysis: macro, meso, and micro. Reviewing multiple levels of study undergirds the need to engage the pluralistic terms of generosity, philanthropy, and prosociality, as each of those terms is not engaged to the same degree within each level of study. In other words, searching for prosociality alone is more likely to return micro-level studies, and searching for philanthropy alone is more likely to return macro or meso-level studies. To complicate the topic area further, generosity is most likely to return studies of informal activities or social and psychological orientations to engage in activities intended to benefit others. Thus, to not inadvertently bias the meta-analysis toward one versus another level of study, this article engages each of these keywords to source relevant publications. Relevant publications are then coded by level within the following descriptors.
The level of analysis for sourced publications is categorized in this way. Macro-level studies typically focus on the role of governments and economies in shaping social outcomes. In the field of studies related to philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, this macro-level approach most often includes a focus on governance structures, how governments regulate the size and scope of the nonprofit sector, the ways that nongovernmental organizations contribute to civil society, and the role of media and culture in shaping the ways societies value voluntary action for the collective good. Meso-level studies typically focus on organizations as the primary unit of analysis. While there can be intersections between macro and meso approaches, the distinguishing characteristic between the approaches is the degree of emphasis placed on organizational features for explaining the social forces of interest. For example, political scientists or economists may study the size and scope of the sector as an outcome of governmental and economic forces, which would be categorized as a macro-level approach. In distinction, organizational units may be studied by sociologists, community social workers, and organizational, business, management, leadership, nonprofit studies, or international affairs scholars, alongside practitioners such as fundraisers, foundation leaders, nonprofit executives. The emphasis in meso-level studies is often on the ways that leadership, communication, workforce and volunteer experiences shape outcomes. Importantly, the data in meso-level studies is typically sampled through an organizational unit, such as a nonprofit, social movement, or group event. This sampling unit aids in distinguishing meso-level studies from micro-level studies. In micro-level studies, the sampled units are typically individuals or households that are not connected through a specific organization. These units are typically studied by psychologists, social psychologists, sociologists, clinical social workers, behavioral economists, and practitioners interested in motivations for emotive responses of engagement.1
Since the aim of this article is to synthesize scholarship garnered from a wide range of disciplines, a multi-level approach is necessary. Importantly, rather than viewing each level as a distinct “bucket” that is mutually exclusive from the other two “buckets,” the categorization employed in this article is understood to be a spectrum with gradient hues of overlapping colors between each level. Figure 1 presents a visual representation of each level, displaying the gradient hues of intersection between levels (i.e., macro-meso, meso-micro), and names a few examples of topics of emphasis within each level (e.g., governments, cultures, nonprofits sectors, organizational leadership, indigenous philanthropies, giving and volunteering motivations, personality traits). The examples are not exhaustive of the wide array of topics explored but rather illustrate a few of the topics that are readily identifiable within each level.

1.2.1. Macro-Level Generosity

This section briefly introduces typical approaches within macro-level studies of generosity, philanthropy, nonprofits, and prosociality. A common approach in macro-level studies is to focus on the role of tax policies in promoting charitable giving. For example, in a report for the Center for Global Development, Roodman and Standley (2006) surveyed officials representing 21 donor nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Development Assistance Committee (DAC). These DAC countries (e.g., U.S., U.K.) contribute millions of dollars in international development aid to “developing countries”. The researchers exemplify a common macro-level approach in this study, in that they analyzed the amount of donations contributed from each country as the outcome, based upon explanatory measures of governmental tax incentives (e.g., income tax, estate tax, capital gains tax, low tax ratio incentives). Another example of a macro-level approach is from van Leeuwen and Wiepking (2012), who studied national campaigns for charitable causes. Focusing on the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United States from 1950–2011, the researchers found cross-national variations in the number and outcomes of national-level campaigns.
When studying organizational units, macro-level approaches often treat nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as an extension of government, essentially as public-sector outsourcing, and continue a focus on regulation, volunteer labor, gross domestic product (GDP), and other large-scale characteristics. For example, Furneaux and Barraket (2014) studied “social procurement” as referring to the intentional purchasing of a social outcome (e.g., reducing impact on the environment or employing someone with a disability). This purchase can be from nonprofits or social enterprises. In this context, regulation and transparency are important concerns. One example of a macro-level approach to studying philanthropic regulations is from Breen (2016), who studied global trends in regulations of fundraising activities. This includes statutory initiatives that introduce bills to formally regulate, along with “mixed statutory” initiatives that create government ethical standards and ethics review boards, and nonstatutory initiatives in which professional associations provide non-binding ethical statements that influence standards. One of the complexities involved in regulating charitable activities is the degree of cross-border projects, in terms of trans-national projects and within-country projects that cross state or region borders. Breen reviewed several examples of innovative approaches to regulation in these projects.
At the macro-meso intersection are situated several public policy and public affairs approaches. For example, Phillips and Blumberg studied the size and scope of the NGO sector by country and asserted that “developing countries tend to have the least developed nonprofit sectors” (Phillips and Blumberg 2016, p. 316). They investigated how governments regulate nonprofit sectors and the effect these macro-level policies had on the functioning of the meso-level organizations. Additionally, Phillips and Smith (2016) broadened the macro-level attention to philanthropy by extending beyond tax incentives for charitable donations to investigate the scope of participation in philanthropy within the population, as well as to include volunteering along with charitable giving. Along these lines, several studies compare volunteering rates across nations (e.g., Salamon and Sikolowski 2001; Salamon et al. 2013), and Salamon et al. (2004) defined a Global Civil Society Index to rank order countries by their scores for three dimensions indicating the robustness of the civil society sector: (1) capacity: the size of the sector, and the effort or activity it mobilizes, (2) sustainability: the ability of the civil society sector to sustain itself over time (legally, financially, and socially), (3) impact: the contribution of the civil society sector makes to social, economic, and political life. Sometimes this intersectional, macro-meso approach is targeted at meso-level units, such as when Salamon et al. (2012) summarized nonprofit consensus on core values for organizational leadership.
Other macro-level, cross-national comparisons of philanthropy rates and functions are the Hudson Institute Global Indices (IPF 2017), including the Global Philanthropy Environment Index (e.g., GPEI 2018, 2019), the Global Landscape of Philanthropy report (Bellegy et al. 2018), and the State of the World’s Volunteerism report (Leigh et al. 2011). Several national-level studies also investigate charitable giving and volunteering rates, such as the Philanthropy Panel Study (e.g., Wong et al. 2016). Another macro-level approach is the study of culture and socialization (e.g., Wagner 2016). For example, Kang et al. (2011) investigated cross-national differences in the giving behavior of young people enrolled in universities, including the role of “Statist and Traditional models” of civil society in influencing the extent to which the next generation of young people is engaged. Cumulatively, these examples illustrate common approaches within macro-level studies.

1.2.2. Meso-Level Generosity

This section briefly introduces the middle of Figure 1: approaches within meso-level studies of generosity, philanthropy, nonprofits, and prosociality. In focusing on the organizational units, one of the most prevalent approaches is to study garnering resources through fundraising practices (e.g., Ledvinová 1997; Body and Breeze 2016). Another is to study the outcomes of organizational efforts, referred to as social impact or social benefit research, (e.g., Sokolowski 2014) and program evaluation (e.g., Strickland 2009). As a critical perspective on the macro-level approaches above, Casey (2016) identified key organizational and national differences that cannot be readily standardized to conform to large-scale indices. In this context, several studies focus on particular characteristics of organizations, often featuring case studies. For example, Hayek (2017) reviewed 70 publications about corporate philanthropy to study the types of support that corporations provide. Similarly, Toepler et al. (2018) studied philanthropic foundations and their performance measures.
Along these lines, several studies focus on the intersection of philanthropy with occupations. For example, Alias and Ismail (2013) studied health care volunteers to better understand the ways that social networks can influence the willingness of individuals to engage. Even the occupation of philanthropy can itself contribute to the promotion of generosity (Wiepking 2019), in which case it is notable that the location of university-based philanthropy research centres is highly inequitably distributed around the world: Western Europe has 27, the United States has 17, and all other world regions have only 1–3 university philanthropy research centres (see Figure 2).
Relatedly, Smith et al. (2010) studied motivations and benefits of volunteering among students by recruiting participants through universities and evaluating differences in student volunteering experiences by university. Many studies also investigate social group dynamics by examining how race and ethnicity intersect with philanthropy. For example, Carter and Marx (2007) studied African-American motivations for charitable giving, and Aranda (2010) studied the relationship between Latinx culture and charitable giving, finding that grants to communities of color were low and that grant-making interests were not as inclusive of Latinx nonprofits as needed. This connects with another avenue of study into “diaspora philanthropy” in which immigrants provide support through remittances and other contributions to people and organizations in their country of origin (Schmid and Nissim 2016). Also, globalization and rising global travel fostered the activity of “voluntourism” (e.g., Kumaran and Pappas 2012). Finally, another contemporary approach within meso-level studies is to investigate the role of digitalization. For example, Mejova et al. (2014) studied donation behaviors from email campaigns, and Slattery et al. (2020) studied how and to what degree different organizational websites encourage prosocial behavior. Together, these examples illustrate multiple approaches situated within meso-level studies of social organizations, movements, and groups.

1.2.3. Micro-Level Generosity

Migrating to the smallest circle in Figure 1, this section briefly introduces typical approaches within micro-level studies of generosity, philanthropy, nonprofits, and prosociality. These studies most commonly collect data from individuals and households. For example, diary and time use studies ask people to record how they use their time throughout the day and study the amount of time donated within larger time-use decisions (e.g., Havens and Schervish 2001). Other approaches include studying motivations for philanthropic behavior (e.g., Lam et al. 2011; Devlin and Zhao 2017; Nelson et al. 2018; Neumayr and Handy 2019; Radovanović 2019a; 2019b); volunteering and helping (Radovanović 2019c); helping orientation (e.g., Maki et al. 2017); love and compassion (Sequera 2020); the role of emotions (e.g., Ugazio et al. 2012); psychological influences on volunteering (e.g., Smith et al. 2017); trust and confidence in institutions (e.g., Hager and Hedberg 2016); generational preferences (e.g., Cho et al. 2018), and response influences from the length of the survey instrument (Steinberg et al. 2002).2 Cumulatively, these examples highlight several approaches within micro-level studies. In summary, generosity, philanthropy, and prosociality are studied across multiple levels. This means that to study the intersection of prosociality with religiosity also requires attention to multiple levels.

2. Methods

This section summarizes the methods engaged to answer the question: What is known in extant scholarship about the religiousness (or not) of prosocial actions? Several methods were employed to answer this question, and the results are presented within categorizations of macro, meso, and micro. Chronologically, the first method involved 60 informational interviews with scholars located within and studying non-U.S. geographies. These informational interviews highlighted several issues with narrowly scoped keywords, and the ways employing one term versus another would bias the publications toward Western locales. Employing the learnings from the informational interviews, the subsequent two methods involved meta-analyses of extant scholarship, first through a discovery search with open search parameters and then through a systematic search with a specified scope. In the sections below, the methods for the meta-analyses are presented first, followed by the methodology of the informational interviews.

2.1. Discovery Search

To begin the search of existing scholarship, the first part of the process was an open, discovery search for scholarship that engaged both religiosity and generosity, in their many keyword permutations. The approach to this phase was to conduct a purposeful literature review that sought saturation of primary approaches (Luciano 2011; Suri 2011; Pawson 2006). Broad search engines were used, such as EBSCO database and Google Scholar. After initial parsing for relevance, a total of 131 publications were reviewed. Publication types included 86 peer-reviewed journal articles, 20 books, 7 book chapters, 12 reports, 2 working papers, 2 Ph.D. dissertations, and 2 datasets. The concentration was on contemporary scholarship, published since 2010, and there were an average of 10 publications per year across the ten-year timeframe (2010–2020). Among the peer-reviewed journals, the two most prevalent were 24 articles from the Journal from the Scientific Study of Religion and 5 from Voluntas. Other prevalent journals were Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ-5), Review of Religious Research (5), Sociology of Religion (3), Social Forces (3), Contemporary Jewry (2), Personality and Individual Differences (2), and then one article each from a total of 37 other journals.

2.2. Systematic Search

Based on the results of the discovery search, the second phase of the review of existing scholarship entailed a systematic search (Shamseer et al. 2015; Okoli 2015; Parris and Peachey 2013; Page et al. 2018; Moher et al. 2015). One of the central limitations of the discovery search is that the sampled publications cannot be quantified in a meaningful way. For example, the number of returned publications across each level cannot be understood as representative of the actual existence of sources within each level. To address this limitation, a systematic search was conducted to scope all publications addressing the intersection of religiosity and generosity (in all keyword permutations) within a specified set of publication outlets. This yields a set of results that can be analyzed quantitatively in a meaningful way. However, the key to achieve this is to define the scope parameters around a feasible set of narrowly scoped publication sources that can be searched in-depth. As a result, two peer-reviewed journal publications were sourced: the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR), and Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations (Voluntas). The rationale for including these journals is that they are both affiliated with professional associations that represent interdisciplinary social science research related to the two primary topics. JSSR is the official journal of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR), and Voluntas is the official journal of the International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR). Moreover, JSSR was the most prevalent publication in the discovery search, overall and as related to religiosity. While NVSQ and Voluntas were the most prevalent publications in the discovery search related to philanthropy and generosity, Voluntas was selected due to its international scope. Combined, the journals represent the primary topics of interest for this analysis.

2.2.1. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

This section summarizes the methods for sampling publications from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR). Since JSSR articles already sample on religiosity or spirituality, keywords were employed to identify articles related to generosity. In the 506 articles published in JSSR since 2010, 4 were also about charitable giving, philanthropy, donations; 0 were also about generosity; 15 were also about volunteering; 7 were also about civic engagement; 8 were also about social movements and activism; 31 were also about nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or nonprofits; publications on helping completely overlapped with the already sampled publications and indicated that saturation on related terms was reached. Since 15 of these articles overlapped in terms, this systematic search of JSSR returned a total of 50 unique articles on religiosity and generosity, which is about 9.88 percent of the articles published during the ten-year timeframe (2010–2020).

2.2.2. Voluntas

This section summarizes the methods for sampling publications from the Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations (Voluntas). Since Voluntas articles already sample on philanthropy, nonprofit, and prosocial topics, keywords were employed to identify articles related to religiosity. In the 1,129 articles published since 2010, 37 were explicitly about religion, religiosity, or faith; another 5 not already identified studied Islam or Muslims; another 1 studied Buddhism; another 5 studied Judaism or Jewish; another 1 studied Catholicism or Catholics; there were 0 additional articles that were not already scoped on Hinduism, Baha’i, Taoism, or other world religions; another 3 not already scoped studied spirituality. This resulted in a total of 52 articles within Voluntas that addressed religiosity or spirituality, about 4.61 percent of the articles in 2010–2020.

2.3. Informational Interviews

A primary goal of this analysis was to study non-U.S. geographies. To do so, the U.S.-based researchers underwent a desocialization and resocialization process (described below) to sensitize the search parameters to the terms, theories, and sources engaged in non-Western geographies. This was accomplished by learning from informational interviews. The interviews were conducted with scholars and practitioners based in and studying geographic scopes outside of the United States. Interviewees were recruited through eight international conferences and locales in 2019: WITS-Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa; additional interviews in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia; ARNOVA-Asia in Taichung, Taiwan; ERNOP in Basel Switzerland; ISTR-Latin America in Medellín, Colombia; ISTR-Asia in Bangkok, Thailand; SSSR in St. Louis, MO; and AAR in San Diego, CA.3 A total of 60 scholars and practitioners were included with organizational affiliations within the following world regions and countries: Africa (n = 15: South Africa 3, Ethiopia 5, Tanzania 3, Kenya 1, Egypt 2, Ghana 1, Pan-Africa 1); Asia (n = 29: Singapore 6, Vietnam 3, Thailand 1, Indonesia 1, Philippines 1, China 1, Taiwan 3, Korea 3, Japan 2, India 3, Israel 6;); Latin America (n = 9: México 4, Chile 3, Uruguay 1, Brazil 1); Europe and Oceania (n = 7: Serbia 2, Spain 1, Switzerland 1, England 1, Ireland 1, Australia 1).4

2.3.1. Researcher Positionality

As desocialization and resocialization activities, the informational interviews were conducted by emerging scholars alongside academic conferences that presented typical approaches to studies in each area. Emerging scholars then met one-on-one with scholars and practitioners for more personal conversations. The majority of these conversations were across the region of origin, such that emerging scholars from Western countries interviewed scholars and practitioners based in and studying countries outside of the United States and Western Europe, and the inverse. The positionality of the researchers offered some advantages and disadvantages.
The advantages included that emerging scholars often had some prior experience working or conducting research in the regions where interviews were conducted but were rarely experts on those regions or countries. This facilitated emerging scholars in refraining from interjecting or leading the conversations, offering instead an openness to truly hear the perspectives of the scholars and practitioners. As non-experts, it was also easy to ask “naïve” questions, which provided the opportunity for interviewees to explain the meaning of terms and their reactions to particular approaches without concern for offending a scholar who was already established in engaging said term or approach. The interdisciplinarity of the interviewers also facilitated the necessity to advance beyond jargon and work to create a space for commonly understood terms.
Yet, some disadvantages were built into this approach, namely that the lack of shared terms or expressions necessitated additional time to clarify the meaning, as well as a discussion of more general understandings than the nuance and specificity that may be possible with expert or more advanced interviewers. Nevertheless, answers to basic questions, sometimes about simple matters, often proved helpful and interesting.

2.3.2. Informational Interview Process

Scholars and practitioners were selected based on the following inclusion and exclusion criteria. Firstly, the scholar or practitioner was typically participating in a regional academic conference relating to philanthropy or religiosity. Specifically, the conferences were the: (1) Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Associations (ARNOVA)—Asia in Taichung, Taiwan; (2) International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR)—Asia in Bangkok, Thailand; (3) ISTR—Latin America in Medellín, Colombia; (4) European Research Network on Philanthropy (ERNOP) in Basel, Switzerland, with emphasis on Israeli participants; (5) American Academy of Religion (AAR) in San Diego, California, with emphasis on international participants; (5) Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) in St. Louis, Missouri, with emphasis on international participants; (6) Wits-Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa; and (7) additional scholars and practitioners in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Secondly, the scholar or practitioner was producing scholarship relating to philanthropy, religiosity, or youth development. Particular attention was paid to scholars or practitioners addressing intersections between philanthropy, religiosity, or youth development. Thirdly, scholars and practitioners based in and attending to under-studied world regions were the highest priority. Fourthly, while scholars tend to be focused on, or rooted in, a particular discipline, this project was interdisciplinary. There were advantages and disadvantages to the interdisciplinary nature of this research. The advantages included that, when scholars addressed topics outside of their core disciplinary focus, they tended to speak less formally, use less specialized words, and get beyond jargon. For example, cultural words such as love and harmony were generally preferred to more scholarship-specific words. This allowed for a more natural conversation and ideas that were easily compared across contexts, relative to terms such as philanthropy and religiosity, which produced different, often negative, meanings across contexts. A related advantage was that interviewees could step outside their professional role to speak about their personal experiences and observations. Yet, the disadvantages included that, when the conversation was focused outside of the scholar’s area of expertise, the discussion tended to rely on personal first- and second-hand stories, or anecdotes.

2.4. Geographic Scope

In order to attend to the geographic scope of sourced publications, a coding scheme was introduced to geo-tag all publications based on meta-data. Whenever possible, publications were tagged at the country level. However, in some cases, the publication only listed a world region, and there were several inconsistencies in how scholars coded world regions. To facilitate all countries being coded within the same set of world regions, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs classification schema for national statistics was employed (UN 2020). The six UN world regions are defined as: Northern America, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. See Herzog (2020) in this special issue for additional information on this geo-tagging schema.

3. Results

The results are presented in the following order: (1) discovery search by level, (2) systematic search by level, first JSSR and second Voluntas, (3) informational interviews, (4) geographic scope.

3.1. Discovery Search Results

The first section of results presents examples from the discovery search for publications studying intersections of: (a) generosity and philanthropy with (b) religiosity and spirituality.

3.1.1. Macro-Level Intersections

This section summarizes several examples of approaches within macro-level studies of intersections between: (a) generosity, philanthropy, nonprofits, or prosociality with (b) religiosity or spirituality. Phillips and Blumberg (2016) synthesized research at this intersection by stating:
Religious affiliation and attendance at faith services has been a strong predictor of giving and volunteering, and religion is still the primary destination of philanthropy in many countries. However, religious attachment (particularly among Christians) is declining rapidly in many European and North and South American countries, and the composition of religions among once quite homogenous populations is changing due to immigration. Globally, Islam is significant for its growth.
For this and other reasons, many macro-level studies investigate the role of Islam in shaping philanthropy and generosity. Warner and colleagues analyzed this by comparing generosity within a Muslim-dominant country—Turkey, to Catholic-dominant countries—Ireland, Italy, and France (Warner et al. 2015, 2018a, 2018b; Warner et al. 2011; Kılınç and Warner 2015). The researchers found collected data through a mixed-methods approach that began with a qualitative study designed to better understand the beliefs that Catholics and Muslims in these countries held. This process revealed that a belief that was seemingly similar across religions—duty to God—was adhered to in distinct ways. That qualitative finding then informed an experiment designed to elicit generosity through a duty to God prime. The prime was considerably more effective for Catholics, who were lowly enacting their belief in duty to God and thus were receptive to the prime. Alternatively, Muslims were already fairly maximized in enacting their belief in duty to God and could thus not be further primed to give more.

Macro-Level Religion and Trust

Another macro-level approach to the intersection of religiosity and generosity is exemplified by Paxton and Glanville, who studied the relationship between social capital, social trust, generosity, and volunteering (Glanville et al. 2013; Glanville et al. 2016; Paxton and Glanville 2015; Paxton et al. 2014). In studying nearly 10,000 respondents from 15 Western European countries, the researchers found that religious belief, affiliation, comfort in religion, and religious salience—the degree of importance placed on beliefs and affiliation—all associated with volunteering rates. Specifically, high attenders with above average religious salience volunteered for nearly double the number of organizations than high attenders with below average religious salience. Likewise, praying predicted greater volunteering, such that those who prayed daily and were high attenders volunteered for a quarter more organizations than those who were high attenders but did not pray daily, which is an equivalent boost to having eight more years of education. These findings are particularly notable considering that the majority of macro-level studies accounting for religiosity typically measure religious service attendance frequency alone, whereas this study finds that it is attendance frequency in conjunction with other measures of religiosity that are the most predictive.

Macro-Level Religion and Volunteering

Focusing on volunteering, several studies find relationships with religiosity (e.g., Cnaan et al. 2012; Hodgkinson 2003; Kang et al. 2011; Luria et al. 2017; Prouteau and Sardinha 2015). In one, Luria et al. (2017) found that national culture moderated the relationship between religious attendance and volunteering, especially volunteering to help people in need. The researchers also identified a “spillover effect” in which the percentage of congregation members in a country was positively correlated with the percentage of members of that country who volunteered. Related to the point toward the beginning of this article, regarding the potential for religiosity to have multiple relationships, the results of this study revealed that out of the 17 countries, volunteering and religious attendance were positively associated in nine countries, had no correlation in seven countries (e.g., Uganda, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines), and a negative relationship in one country: Vietnam.

Macro-Level Religion and Civil Society

An additional macro-level study found that, across 79 countries, voluntary participation in religious organizations was correlated with life satisfaction (Okulicz-Kozaryn 2010). Counter-intuitively, a cross-national study of priestly vocation rates found that Catholic-majority countries produced fewer priests than Catholic-minority countries (Fishman et al. 2015). Lastly, in a study of anti-Muslim sentiment in Western Europe, Ribberink et al. (2017) found that secularized countries are overall more tolerant of Muslims, yet it is the nonreligious within those countries who express the most intensely anti-Muslim sentiments. In summary, the intersection between religiosity and generosity at the macro-level returns mixed results that highlight the need to investigate religiosity as a multi-faceted social force. Doing so reveals that there is no singular, positive relationship, but rather complex interconnections that are importantly based within specific features of religiosity and diverse cultures.

3.1.2. Meso-Level Intersections

This section summarizes examples of meso-level studies that investigate intersections between: (a) religiosity and (b) charitable giving, volunteering, civic engagement, social services, international aid, and conflict. When taking a meso-approach to the study of religiosity and spirituality, the literature on religious organizations has often engaged these issues with an interest in their role in prosocial behavior (e.g., Putnam and Campbell 2010; Bretherton 2015). Cast broadly to include all aspects of human flourishing, such as economic and religious freedom, basic health and human services, community development, as well as social and civic engagement, religious organizations have often been central in promoting this work both locally and around the world, whether through their particular faith communities or as component parts of a broader network of religious, intra- or inter-religious, and secular networks (Swearer and McGarry 2011). Indeed, a variety of largely secular organizations like nation-states or inter-governmental agencies such as the World Bank or United Nations have discovered the value and power of religious communities in supporting efforts toward relief, development, advocacy, dialogue, and other efforts to ensure human flourishing (Marshall 2013). Of course, religious institutions have and continue to serve as divisive forces in the midst of civil, ethnic, or religious wars and inhibiting or forcefully undermining efforts to protect individual freedom based on race, gender, or religion. In analyzing the agency and power of religion and spirituality through its mediating institutions, this power is not always in the service of pro-social behaviors (Cadge et al. 2011). Some scholarship, however, still ignores or underestimates the power of religion and its place in the public sphere. Segregating faith communities as a private affair, some scholars too often dismiss or limit the explanatory power of religiosity amidst other explanations such as supply and demand, political expediency, or democratic values. Yet, other scholars find that religiosity and religious institutions have a central role in shaping prosocial behaviors such as giving and volunteering, civic engagement, humanitarian services, and mediating conflict.

Meso-Level Religion, Giving, and Volunteering

Within the scholarship on giving and volunteering, religious affiliation and activity remain significant factors (e.g., Abreu et al. 2015; Chaves and Miller 2008; Cohen et al. 2014; Heiphetz et al. 2013; Heiphetz and Young 2019; Lazăr and Hatos 2019; Lim and MacGregor 2012; Novis-Deutsch 2015; Shaul Bar Nissim and Brookner 2019; Schnable 2015). In the United States, people of faith give and volunteer more to both religious and secular causes (Austin 2017). Religious institutions, specifically congregations, receive the largest percentage of Americans’ charitable contributions each year. While large-scale data remains limited, at least one large-scale study exists. The National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices serves as a representative sample of U.S. congregations and how they receive, manage, and spend money (NSCEP: Mundey et al. 2019). The study demonstrates that while individuals’ religious affiliation, engagement, volunteering, and giving may be declining as an overall average, religious institutions do not always follow individual trends. Trends in financial giving do not always directly follow religious activity. Yet, within the study of congregational giving and volunteering, there are studies that investigate the distinctiveness of particular denominations or religious traditions. For example, Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) give the highest percentage of income to religious causes (Curtis et al. 2013, 2014) while Jewish Americans, on average, give the highest amounts annually to charity overall (Landres et al. 2013). There are a variety of studies on Protestants and evangelical giving (e.g., Bird 2019) as well as a particular focus on Roman Catholic and Orthodox giving (e.g., Krindatch 2015; Starks and Smith 2012; Gray et al. 2013). Beyond studying giving to congregations specifically, surveys such as the American Muslim Philanthropy Poll compared giving of Muslims with other faith groups, not only to a variety of religious organizations but secular organizations as well, both domestic and internationally (Mogahed et al. 2019). Collectively, this scholarship demonstrates the diverse approaches and practices that a variety of religious communities have to charitable giving.
In addition, scholars have also studied how the cultures of religious institutions have shaped giving and volunteering, at the level of denominational or religious tradition, as well as the specific local congregation and community level (Barnes 2013; McClure 2017). A few studies have focused on questions of resource development outside the United States, such as Bekkers and Schuyt (2008) in the Netherlands, and some anthropological studies have focused on global networks and local realities of the prosperity gospel that promise a return to individuals of health and wealth for giving to God (e.g., Haynes 2012; Griffiths-Dingani 2012). Religion and institutional philanthropy remain an underdeveloped researched area. Lindsay and Wuthnow (2010) highlighted the role of religion in the strategic philanthropy of foundations, but they acknowledged the limits in data and classification of religious institutions among nonprofits and philanthropic foundations. Others documented similar difficulties in organized Jewish philanthropy as well (Shaul Bar Nissim and Brookner 2019).

Meso-Level Religion and Civic Engagement

The scholarship on religion and politics, particularly a focus in the United States on conservative Christianity and the Religious Right in recent decades, is voluminous (e.g., Beyerlein et al. 2011; Bretherton 2019, 2015; Flores and Cossyleon 2016; Freston 2001, 2008; Lee and Han 2016a; Wald 2010). Much of the social scientific scholarship focuses on polling data of individuals, while historians often recount the role of religious institutions (parachurch groups, faith-based organizations: FBOs, and particular congregations and religious networks). The engagement of religion with politics is not only a United States phenomenon, as social scientists have been noting the rise of religion and politics globally across religious traditions (e.g., Freston 2001, 2008). There has been much less focus on the role of the political activities of religious institutions, particularly congregations (Beyerlein and Chaves 2003; Smith 2008). While more focused on an individual-level approach, a number of studies use measurements of engagement in religious communities as a factor in political and civic engagement (e.g., Sarkissian 2012; Audette et al. 2020). Yet, other studies examine how engagement in political rhetoric and behavior may encourage growth of the religious institution (Audette and Weaver 2016; Perry 2013). Additionally, other scholars have examined particular cultures or moral frames within congregations or religious traditions that might offer explanations for the shaping of specific forms of civic engagement, whether that be the black church, diversity within Catholicism, evangelicalism or individual congregations (Barnes 2005; Cavendish 2002; Elisha 2011; McClure 2017; Hess 2018). Still other scholars have sought to consider how new styles of community building, religious organizations, and social networks are reshaping civil society (Khan 2016; Lewis et al. 2013).

Meso-Level Religion and NGOs

Within this intersection, there is a great deal of focus on faith-based organizations (FBOs) and U.S. social services (e.g., Bielefeld and Cleveland 2013; Appe and Schnable 2019; Bok 2020; Cadge and Konieczny 2014; Cochrane et al. 2014; Dolacis and Dolace 2018; Fuist 2014; Gallet 2016; Grim and Grim 2016; Lee and Han 2016a; Manuel and Glatzer 2019; Nguyen et al. 2016; Reynolds and Offutt 2013; Scheitle and McCarthy 2018; Schnable 2016; Seymour et al. 2014; Shaul Bar Nissim 2017; Sinha 2013; Todd 2012). The U.S. charitable choice legislation ignited a number of studies on the nature of these religious organizations, the effectiveness of their programs versus secular ones, and the nature of their governance and funding (e.g., Ebaugh et al. 2006; Sider and Unruh 2004), as well as religious congregations and their own provision of social services locally (Chaves and Eagle 2016). Some scholars consider congregations to be a membership organization that mirrors voluntary agency, questioning the impact of the organization beyond the institutional attenders. However, as Cnaan and colleagues have demonstrated through multiple studies, many congregations provide a significant “economic halo effect” for their local communities (e.g., Cnaan 2010; Cnaan and Boddie 2001; Cnaan and Curtis 2013). Indeed, 87 percent of the beneficiaries of the community programs and events housed in sacred places are not members of the religious congregation (Cnaan 2010). Beyond congregations, other studies of local faith communities investigate the role of religious networks through FBOs and grassroots and advocacy organizations (e.g., Wood and Fulton 2015; Fulton and Wood 2017; Fuist 2014; Givens 2012).
The local community impact of congregations and FBOs is also matched by a focus on international partnership. For example, Wuthnow (2010) noted the significant financial impact of American churches in global mission and humanitarian work. Some scholars have sought to measure the “boomerang effect” of American youth and adults traveling to global contexts, not only providing resources abroad but also increasing civic engagement at home (Beyerlein et al. 2011). Other scholars have sought to catalog the variety of models of partnerships between religious communities across global distance, contemplating differences of resources, power, and relationships (Bakker 2011). Internationally, studies such as Myers (2011) have served to highlight the role of theology and religious practice. Moreover, Probasco (2016) examined how religious practices, such as prayer, can influence the reception of international relief and development aid in impoverished communities. Using Nicaragua as a case study, the researcher found that aid recipients’ prayers both enhance and constrain their ability to assert themselves as “empowered” actors during aid interactions with Christian aid and relief organizations. Compared with secular interactions, through prayer, recipients fashion themselves as influencing the actions of more powerful entities, including God and donors. In general, in the secular aid interactions, the initiative of the donors was emphasized alongside the helplessness and gratitude of recipients. By contrast, those who viewed aid interactions in religious terms often saw themselves as active recipients of aid, worthy recipients, and people with something to offer in return. However, though these prayers empower an individual’s sense of agency, at the same time, they also constrain his or her ability to envision systemic changes in societal structures. Secular development has also hosted engagement with religious actors and institutions (e.g., Tyndale 2016). Additionally, a plethora of scholars have focused on case studies of the role of religion in global development (e.g., Petersen 2010; Swidler and Watkins 2017) or the particular religious identity and activity of large-scale humanitarian organizations (King 2019; Barnett and Stein 2012). As a globalized network of institutions, this scholarly field is primed for an even deeper focus on the impact of religiosity and spirituality on organizational practice, as well as a focus on recipients and local communities (Bornstein 2012).

Meso-Level Religion and Conflict

In addition, several studies find negative aspects of religiosity (e.g., Smilde and May 2010). Notably, religious organizations are also linked to antisocial outcomes, such as conflict. For example, religious congregations can be the site of deep divisions over theological and programmatic issues (e.g., Anderson 2010). Additionally, leadership turnover in religious organizations can result in conflict (e.g., Dollhopf 2013). More generally, in-group and out-group dynamics can engender identity conflicts among religious groups (e.g., Novis-Deutsch 2015). For example, in the U.S., Jung (2012) found that Islamophobia is highest among Christians. Specifically, for most groups, greater degrees of contact with Muslims is associated with improved sentiments about Islam, but for evangelical and black Protestants, the inverse is true: among those with the highest degree of contact with Muslims the predicted probability for low respect for Muslims was 20 percent higher for evangelical Protestants compared to unaffiliated, and nearly 30 percent higher for black Protestants (Jung 2012).

3.1.3. Micro-Level Intersections

Many of the micro-level approaches to religiosity and spirituality are studied in relation to participating in generous activities. For example, the Faith Matters Survey investigated the relationship between faith and civic life (Putnam et al. 2011), and researchers analyzed data from the Panel Study on American Religion and Ethnicity Religion (PS-ARE) to investigate religion and charitable financial giving as it relates to political ideology (Vaidyanathan et al. 2011). Additionally, religious economy theories have been intersected with individual motivations for acting in altruistic ways (e.g., Brown 2009).

Micro-Level Religion, Giving, and Volunteering

Within micro-level investigations of generosity and religiosity, several studies focus on how individual-level religiosity relates to charitable giving and volunteering. For example, in the U.S., Ai et al. (2013) studied religious coping among disaster relief volunteers; Johnson et al. (2013) studied the relationship between intrinsic religiosity and volunteering while transitioning into adulthood; Johnston (2013) investigated how religion and volunteering intersect throughout the life course; and in the Netherlands, Vermeer and Scheepers (2012) examined the ongoing effects of religious socialization during childhood, net of whether a young person continues to be actively religious throughout the life course. In terms of charitable giving, Vaidyanathan and Snell (2011) found several religious motivations for donating; Vaidyanathan et al. (2011) examined data from the Panel Study on American Ethnicity and Religion (PS-ARE) and found that the relationship between political ideology and charitable giving was entirely mediated by religiosity. Additionally, Ottoni-Wilhelm (2010) analyzed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and found that differences in family giving existed by religious affiliation. Specifically, Jewish families were more likely to give and donated in greater amounts than Christian families. Focusing on the Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS) data within the PSID, Lam et al. (2014) found that religious socialization was a key factor explaining the intergenerational transmission of charitable giving from parents to offspring. Additionally, voluntary religious participation was linked to lower mortality rates (Shor and Roelfs 2013); analysis of data from the General Social Survey (GSS) revealed that frequency of prayer was positively associated with charitable giving and volunteering (Sharp 2019); and Cohen et al. (2017) found that charitable giving was related to specific religious beliefs, such as duty to God. Moreover, this micro-level intersection between religiosity and charitable activities was not limited to the U.S.: important relationships were also found in Canada (e.g., Devlin and Zhao 2017; Mandelker 2020), Austria (Neumayr and Handy 2019), El Salvador and Perú (Moulin-Stożek and Osorio 2018).

Religion, Altruism, and Helping

In addition to the more formal forms of charitable giving and volunteering, relationships also exist between informal helping and altruism (e.g., Snyder and Dwyer 2012), and moral foundations (e.g., Johnson et al. 2016) and religiosity. For example, in a cross-national investigation of 126 countries with a total of 179,961 respondents, religiosity was correlated with likelihood of helping a stranger; notably, people within countries with greater religious diversity and members of minority religion were even more likely to help strangers (Bennett and Einolf 2017). Additionally, an analysis of data from the World Values Survey (WVS), with a total of 10,088 respondents from 31 countries, revealed that voluntary action with cultural, political, and social organizations was greater for those who attended religious services frequently (Gore et al. 2019). In the U.S., mothers with intellectually disabled children provided more help when their degree of religious coping was greater than mothers with similar children who were not religious (Sharak et al. 2017). Nevertheless, it is again worth noting that the relationship between religiosity and altruism is not always positive. Indeed, Vecina (2014) found that, among men in court-mandated treatment for violent partner abuse, those with an authority or purity moral foundation were more likely to engage in violent behaviors.

3.1.4. Summary of Discovery Results

In summary, across multiple levels of analysis, this discovery search indicates that religiosity and generosity are linked within extant scholarship. This relationship assumes positive, neutral, and negative forms and underscores the need to investigate religiosity and spirituality within investigations of generosity, philanthropy, nonprofits, and prosociality. The next section turns to a systematic search for this intersection.

3.2. Systematic Search Results

Having reviewed the results of the discovery search, the next section presents results of a systematic search of two primary, peer-reviewed publications for studies of religiosity and giving.

3.2.1. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

This section summarizes the results for sampling publications from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR). There were 50 publications identified in JSSR 2010–2020 as studying the intersection between religiosity and generosity, in each of their permutations. Of these, 4 studied charitable giving or philanthropy (Lindsay and Wuthnow 2010; Ottoni-Wilhelm 2010; Vaidyanathan et al. 2011; Whitehead 2010); 15 studied volunteering (Adler and Offutt 2017; Ai et al. 2013; Bennett and Einolf 2017; Beyerlein et al. 2011; Evans et al. 2013; García and Blankholm 2016; Hill and den Dulk 2013; Johnson et al. 2013; Johnston 2013; Luria et al. 2017; McClure 2013; Minton et al. 2016; Ottoni-Wilhelm 2010; Schnable 2016; Shor and Roelfs 2013); 7 studied civic engagement (Audette et al. 2020; Beyerlein et al. 2011; Djupe 2014; Dowd and Sarkissian 2017; Hill and den Dulk 2013; Lussier 2019; Sarkissian 2012); 8 studied social movements (Calfano and Oldmixon 2018; Ellingson et al. 2012; Krull 2020; Reed and Pitcher 2015; Smith 2013; Wang 2017; Wright and Palmer 2018; Yukich and Braunstein 2014); and 31 studied nongoverntmental or nonprofit organizations (Adler and Offutt 2017; Bennett and Einolf 2017; Beyerlein et al. 2011; Dollhopf et al. 2015; Drydakis 2010; Ellingson et al. 2012; Evans et al. 2013; Finke and Martin 2014; Flores and Cossyleon 2016; Frost and Edgell 2017; Fuist 2015; Garfield et al. 2014; Hayford and Trinitapoli 2011; Krull 2020; Lindsay and Wuthnow 2010; Manglos-Weber 2017; Mayrl 2018; McKendry-Smith 2016; Meyer et al. 2011; Offutt 2011; Offutt et al. 2016; Perry 2013; Probasco 2016; Sager 2011; Scheitle and McCarthy 2018; Schnable 2016; Smith 2013; Vaidyanathan et al. 2011; Wang 2017; Woods 2012; Yukich and Braunstein 2014). Thus, this systematic search reveals that intersections between religiosity and NGOs are the most common approach in contemporary JSSR articles.

3.2.2. Voluntas

This section summarizes the results for sampling publications from the Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations (Voluntas). A total of 52 publications were identified in Voluntas articles published 2010–2020 for studying religiosity and spirituality. In terms of the level of analysis, 13 articles were macro-level approaches (Akboga and Arik 2019; Compion 2017; Evans et al. 2017; Kim and Jung 2020; Lee and Han 2016a; Lu 2017; Matsunaga et al. 2010; McMullin and Skelcher 2018; Popplewell 2018; Prouteau and Sardinha 2015; Tremblay-Boire and Prakash 2015; Weber 2013; Wu 2019); 25 were meso-level approaches (Bassoli 2017; Bassous 2015; Borchgrevink 2017; Davis 2019; Dinh et al. 2020; Fayos Gardó et al. 2014; Fulton and Wood 2018; Hameiri 2019; Han 2017; Harding 2012; Harrison et al. 2013; Khan 2016; Khvorostianov and Remennick 2017; Kinney 2015; Kumi 2019; Lasker 2016; Moyer et al. 2012; Nezhina and Ibrayeva 2013; Petersen 2012; Scheiber 2016; Shachar 2014; Strichman et al. 2018; Veerasamy et al. 2015; Vermeer and Scheepers 2019; Zanbar and Itzhaky 2014); and 14 were micro-level approaches (Beldad et al. 2015; Campbell and Çarkoğlu 2019; Elsayed 2018; Erasmus and Morey 2016; Neumayr and Handy 2019; Southby et al. 2019; Taniguchi 2012; Taniguchi and Thomas 2011; Taylor-Collins et al. 2019; van Tienen et al. 2011; Vermeer and Scheepers 2012; Vermeer et al. 2016; Wang et al. 2013; Yeung 2017). In summary, meso-level approaches were also the most common in contemporary Voluntas articles (with a rate of nearly double the combined total for macro and micro). Compared to JSSR articles in the same timeframe, Voluntas published a more equitable balance across level. The geographic scope of these articles is reviewed below (Section 3.4). First are the results of the informational interviews.

3.3. Informational Interviews

Having provided a review of extant scholarship on the intersection of religiosity and spirituality with generosity, philanthropy, nonprofits, and prosociality, this next section reviews the results of informational interviews conducted with scholars and practitioners engaged in NGO studies. Interviewees were asked about the connotations within their countries of expertise for the following terms: philanthropy, generosity, religiosity, and spirituality. Their answers are summarized below.

3.3.1. Philanthropy

The interviewed scholars and practitioners from every world region reported that the word “philanthropy” has a negative connotation in that area. In their view, “philanthropy” implies rich, white men giving away their money—and not always for charitable reasons. It is a way of being involved in helping others without truly becoming involved—about assistance rather than empowerment. It conjurs notions of the unloading of wealth in a paternalistic manner. There was also consensus that philanthropy is highly structured and formal. Most scholars agreed that it is a more strategic, business-like approach to giving. However, one scholar from Latin America implied that the distance between the philanthropic donor and recipient went as far as the donor not caring about the results of their gift, or systematic changes, but “just giving to give”.
The scholars in Africa clearly stated that “philanthropy” is not a term which is ever used in their countries of study, unless part of a “specialized sector” which studies the concept. Similarly, in Asia, scholars shared that philanthropy is not a term they would use. Their view of the concept was closely tied to formal structures that are governed by codified norms and procedures. Additionally, philanthropy is viewed as being from a person or organization to an organization, instead of to a person in need of assistance. Philanthropy is also viewed as referring to large-scale giving. Many of the scholars mentioned that everyday citizens would not view themselves as philanthropic. One scholar who focuses on Vietnam indicated that, in order to be considered philanthropy, there has to be a well-thought-out plan for giving, and it must be of significant monetary value. While the scholars in Latin America shared the negative view of the term philanthropy, they took it one step further, speaking to the paternalistic implications—those of rich “gringos” helping “little” people who cannot take care of things themselves. They stated that there is no sense of empowerment in the word. The word philanthropy was tied by scholars in Europe to the idea of, “the great white hope that will mobilize resources for the common good.” However, the motivations behind this type of giving are not viewed as a pure desire to help, but rather more about making oneself look good.
In summary, the interviewed scholars and practitioners generally agreed that philanthropy was not an everyday word for giving activities that resonated with people in the countries they studied. Instead, the terminionology of philanthropy implied a formal, highly structured, even bureaucratic process. They questioned whether this term was paternalistic and Western.

3.3.2. Generosity

When asked about the term generosity, some scholars and practitioners still indicated that it was not a word they would use to describe giving. Nevertheless, the term “generosity” is received more favorably than “philanthropy”. It is seen to be a softer concept, one that is more concerned with the motivation or values behind the act of giving than with the gift itself. While philanthropy was viewed as an action, generosity was often connected with a personal characteristic or an innate quality. Generosity is seen to be a function of community, and one’s connectedness with others. As such, it is understood to have a greater breadth of giving than the monetary-only gifts of philanthropy.
Scholars in Africa shared that generosity is viewed as “community-mindedness” or “mutuality” when people look out for one another. It is best summed in the word “ubuntu,” which means “I am because you are.” Additionally, there is a strong sense of responsibility to family, but the concept of “family” includes extended family. As a result, family relationships are the focus of individual generosity. Scholars in Asia shared that the idea of generosity is strongly linked to community, with some researchers saying that they would prefer terms such as, “social contribution” or “community contribution.” In Thailand, one scholar stated that, “Donating is more collaborative, and not typically led by one large donor.” In Vietnam, one scholar commented that, “Western definitions miss the importance of the familial and community connections that are a vital part of culture in Vietnam.” Generosity is viewed as having more pure motives than philanthropy—it is focused on the goodness of things rather than the efficacy. It is a spirit of compassion and understanding. Generosity is seen as informal, and altruistic. Additionally, the strong sense of community was frequently mentioned as not only an outlet of generosity, but a method through which young people learn to be generous. Scholars in Latin America introduced the idea of taking the community connectivity implied by “generosity” one step further when they introduced the word, “solidaridad” (solidarity) as a preferred term. Additionally, scholars in Latin America indicated that youth in their countries of focus tended to be generous—such as volunteering their time—even if they did not have many resources to donate. Since religion plays such a prominent role in Latin American culture, one scholar stated, “Most youth in México do not have contact with the ideas of generosity, charity or volunteering outside of a religious context.” In Europe, generosity is thought of as an attribute or value rather than an action. It is focused on the consideration of others in everyday acts of kindness.
In summary, compared to the term philanthropy, generosity was viewed as being less formal, and having purer motives, such that one scholar stated that, “Generosity is the disposition of a person, where philanthropy is the action.” Generosity was understood to be concerned less with maintaining the formal functions of foundations and nonprofit organizations and more rooted in community connectedness. Nevertheless, this was also not a term that was viewed to resonate with everyday people as much as words such as love, harmony, solidarity. No one term resonated well.

3.3.3. Religiosity

Responses to the term religiosity yielded some passionate reflections. In many cases, non-religious scholars struggled to separate their personal beliefs from a scholarly view of religiosity as still potentially mattering in their country of focus. This was especially true of one scholar who self-identified as a “militant atheist.” Once personal beliefs were set aside, some common themes were apparent. The majority of interviewed scholars viewed religion as dealing with the practices related to a more formal expression of faith. Some stated that religion can be only about practice and ritual, absent of a faith component. Many viewed religion as a formal, divisive aspect of society. Nevertheless, all these scholars shared that congregations and religious organizations had a solid history of charitable, pro-social activity. Multiple scholars mentioned that they assume the number of people who identify as religious is decreasing. Yet, they stated that these same people return to religion for weddings, funerals, or in times of crisis. Many scholars also reported an increase of people saying that they are religious, without actually practicing or dedicating time to furthering their faith. This contradicting pattern was mostly noted in discussing youth and their relationship with religion. Finally, in each region, scholars shared that there is a positive relationship between religiosity and philanthropic activities. Although at least one scholar commented that this type of giving is driven by faith, rather than the cause.
In Africa, the interviewed scholars viewed religion as divisive. Some mentioned that traditional African religions are classified as more “spiritual” in focus than the doctrinal, formal focus of Western religions. However, this is not the case in every part of Africa. In Ghana, there is a peaceful religious culture including Christianity, Islam, and traditional African religion. As a result, religious affiliation is public in Ghana, whereas in Western contexts it is often considered private. Religion was viewed as a guideline for how one practices their faith. As one scholar mentioned, religion is how one chooses to express their values and teachings, and all religions belong to the same spiritual system. The general idea is that: Spirituality is the one, and religion is the many.
The thoughts on religion shared by scholars in Asia reflected the varied political history of the countries represented—some of which had or continue to have a lack of freedom of religion. In the audio-recorded voices of scholars in Asia, a slightly more negative tone was apparent, in comparison to scholars from other countries. As a result, the comments about religiosity were varied, with some focusing on the political or public sector, and others focusing on a basic-level concept of what religiosity is. According to one scholar, religiosity is “anchoring socioeconomic positions based on faith.” One scholar stated, “In Japan, we don’t distinguish between religion and religiosity… People do not connect their actions with religion. When I hear ‘religiosity,’ I only think about Christian people in Japan, who are only about one percent of the population.” Several scholars, however, acknowledged a positive correlation between religious participation (or beliefs) and giving. For example, in discussing religiosity in India, scholars mentioned that there is a strong correlation between religiosity and youth development. Participation in religious rituals and worship is part of how most youth are raised. There is also a strong correlation between religiosity and generosity. Serving others is viewed by some to be a method of serving God. Major themes across interviews in Asia were implementation of Buddhist practices, Confucius methods, mentioning of shamans and guru men, and the activity of yoga and food as a means to connect with religion and/or spirituality. However, this again varied by county. One scholar stated that in the Thai Buddhist community, there simply is not a concept of spirituality, only the practice of Buddhism. Another scholar suggested exploring the practice of Buddhism as a method of understanding spirituality in Vietnam.
The interviewed scholars in Latin American shared more about the past and present history of the way religious organizations and denominations have influenced society. In many Latin American countries, the Catholic church has a strong history of community benefit and youth development programs. Their influence, and the influence of all religious organizations faded for a time. Now, however, there is a resurgence of religious morals and values, this time led by the Evangelical church movement. One scholar stated: “We cannot ignore the fact that often religious leaders can facilitate connections easier than other organizations.” Additionally, there was recognition of a general decline in the number of people who participate in formal religion. Another stated that they regularly conduct surveys about religion in Chile. Through this research, they have noticed a decline in self-identification as religious and lesser participation in formal religion. This scholar went on to say that many people claim affiliation with a particular religion due to family heritage, i.e., being “born” Catholic, rather than ongoing personal beliefs. As in the other regions, scholars in Europe viewed religion as formal, structured and tied to an institution. However, they also shared a sense that the rituals of religion reflected not only believing something but practicing it as well. A few of the scholars identified the current scandals surrounding religion, specifically the Catholic Church, and how this, as a result, is contributing to the decreasing number of people identifying as religious.
In summary, religiosity was comparable to philanthropy in its tendency to be understood as formal and organized. Non-religious scholars sometimes had a hard time understanding why religiosity may be an important topic to study within their countries of focus, despite also discussing the long connection between religious institutions and prosocial activities. This disconnect appears to be due in part to wanting to distance from the politically charged history of religiosity.

3.3.4. Spirituality

In general, the interviewed scholars viewed “spirituality” as more informal, less structured, and broader than religiosity. It was a common theme that spirituality was viewed as an individualistic relationship with whatever higher being a person believes exists. However, in some instances, the line between religiosity and spirituality was somewhat blurred. In Africa, scholars reported that there is a view of spirituality as something that connects all things together, even religions. One scholar stated, “All religions are connected through a central point called spirituality.” However, this is not the case in Ghana, where spirituality is more often thought of in terms of Christian spirituality. Many scholars in Asia viewed spirituality in a more positive light than religiosity. Spirituality was viewed as a way for people to “try to make sense of the world.” It includes other views and beliefs that do not fit in the formal structure of religion.
Scholars in Asia described a perception of spirituality as faith beyond the rituals of religion. However, as mentioned in the religiosity section above, this view of spirituality is not universally shared across Asian countries, some of which, like Thailand, simply do not have a concept of spirituality apart from religion. One scholar shared a perception that the split between religiosity and spirituality is one that was conceived in Western cultures that are rooted in a secular-religious divide. Among the scholars in Latin America, there were two distinct views of spirituality. The first is similar to the view held in other regions: that spirituality is how a person tries to make sense of the big, existential questions of life. The other view blurs the line between spirituality and religiosity, considering the practices of religion (such as prayer and church attendance) as part of spirituality, even while these rituals are also used to categorize a formal religion. European scholars also viewed spirituality as much broader than religion and tied to the culture of the community or country. There was also discussion of the greater appeal of an informal spirituality over a formal religiosity. One scholar stated, “People have begun to adopt bits and pieces of different belief systems depending on what appeals to them, like a ‘spiritual marketplace’”.
In summary, the term spirituality was parallel to generosity, in the sense that their connotations are understood as less formal than religiosity and philanthropy. The non-religious scholars across all regions seemed to struggle less with discussing spirituality, perhaps because it is not as politically charged as religiosity has been, particularly in certain regions, such as Asia and Latin America. Overall, the distinction between religiosity and spirituality appeared to be more blurred than in Western contexts, in which the notion of “Spiritual But Not Religious” can sometimes be engaged.

3.4. Geographic Scope

Extant scholarship has identified a Western bias within the geographic scope of studies. North America and Europe receive considerably more attention within data collection efforts, and in particular, the United States and Western Europe accrue the greatest inequality in attentional wealth. Drawing on a report from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Wagner (2016, vii) agreed with the informational interviewees in stating: “Although well intentioned, classical definitions of philanthropy, when applied in a narrow process, may serve to weaken or inhibit significant characteristics that are prevalent in diverse communities. The unfortunate casualty in this process has been the failure to recognize the unique cultural characteristics of altruism which emerges naturally in these communities.” The results of this study indicate that this geographic inequality conditions the methods engaged, including the foundational terms used to study relevant topics.
In an effort to lessen this geographic-centrism, even while reviewing extant studies that set their own geographic scope, concerted effort is invested in this study to sample publications that attend to under-studied world regions. This is accomplished through three approaches: (1) all publications were geo-tagged at the lowest level identifiable (i.e., country, state, city; or world region if no sub-geography was identifiable from the publication meta-data); (2) in the discovery search, specific attention was paid to inclusion of non-Western studies; and (3) in the systematic search, all sampled publications are quantified according to geo-tagging, with numerical quantities representing the actual attention paid to each geography within studies investigating religiosity and generosity.
In total, 23 of the 50 contemporary JSSR articles, and 35 of the 52 Voluntas articles, attended to non-Western geographies in studying the intersection of religiosity and generosity (JSSR: Adler and Offutt 2017; Audette et al. 2020; Bennett and Einolf 2017; Dowd and Sarkissian 2017; Drydakis 2010; Finke and Martin 2014; Hayford and Trinitapoli 2011; Luria et al. 2017; Lussier 2019; Manglos-Weber 2017; McKendry-Smith 2016; Meyer et al. 2011; Minton et al. 2016; Offutt 2011; Offutt et al. 2016; Probasco 2016; Reed and Pitcher 2015; Sarkissian 2012; Schnable 2016; Shor and Roelfs 2013; Wang 2017; Woods 2012; Wright and Palmer 2018; Voluntas: Akboga and Arik 2019; Bassoli 2017; Bassous 2015; Beldad et al. 2015; Borchgrevink 2017; Campbell and Çarkoğlu 2019; Compion 2017; Davis 2019; Dinh et al. 2020; Elsayed 2018; Erasmus and Morey 2016; Fayos Gardó et al. 2014; Han 2017; Harding 2012; Khvorostianov and Remennick 2017; Kim and Jung 2020; Kinney 2015; Kumi 2019; Lee and Han 2016a; Lu 2017; Matsunaga et al. 2010; McMullin and Skelcher 2018; Moyer et al. 2012; Neumayr and Handy 2019; Nezhina and Ibrayeva 2013; Petersen 2012; Popplewell 2018; Prouteau and Sardinha 2015; Scheiber 2016; Shachar 2014; Southby et al. 2019; Strichman et al. 2018; Veerasamy et al. 2015; Weber 2013; Zanbar and Itzhaky 2014). This proportion of articles attending to non-Western geographies is considerably higher than that same geographic scope within studies of religiosity and spirituality generally (Herzog 2020), and thus indicates that intersecting these topics results in a greater degree of attention beyond the U.S. and Western Europe than does studying religiosity alone, without this topical intersection. The results of these geographic scope analyses are presented below, reviewing each of the following world regions in turn: Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. (For publications focusing on Eastern Europe, see Vándor et al. 2017; Toepler 2018).

3.4.1. Africa

In the discovery search, and throughout the informational interviews, several publications were gathered that provided helpful overviews regarding the cultural, political, economic, and social context of Africa (Zeleza 2002; Weare et al. 2003; Zeleza 2006; Sori 2012a, 2012b; Alagidede et al. 2013; Altmann et al. 2016; Chakamera and Alagidede 2018; Adamek et al. 2019). While not specific to religiosity and generosity, these studies help to identify major contextual features in Africa that shape, or should shape, the study of religiosity and generosity in African countries. For example, informational interviewee Paul Zeleza—Vice Chancellor of the United States International University Africa in Nairobi, Kenya—and colleagues (Zeleza 2002, 2006; Weare et al. 2003) discussed the invention of African identities and languages, the politics of historical and social science research in Africa, and the implications of Africa’s globalization. Related specifically to Ethiopia, informational interviewee Assefa Tolera Sori (2012a, 2012b)—Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Addis Adaba University in Ethiopia—discussed the broader health context, in particular the role of socio-economic factors in risks of HIV infection. Also in the context of Ethiopia, interviewee Messay Gebremariam—Assistant Professor of Social Work and Social Development in the Addis Adaba University in Ethiopia—discussed the results of a study by Adamek et al. (2019) that identified the ways that aging in rural Ethiopia impacts childcare responsibility and intergenerational solidarity more generally. Each of these broader social, cultural, political, and economic features contextualize the study of religiosity and generosity in Africa.
Additionally, several informational interviewees specifically studied generosity in Africa. In particular, Bhekinkosi Moyo—Director of the African Centre on Philanthropy and Social Investment and Adjunct Professor at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa—has published extensively about African philanthropy (e.g., Moyo 2010, 2011a, 2011b; Aina and Moyo 2013; Moyo 2013; Moyo and Ramsamy 2014). In these publications, Moyo asserts that the term “philanthropy” is generally not preferred in Africa because it is not perceived to be inclusive in its scope or reach. Preferred terms include helping or giving. Moyo also distinguishes between “Philanthropy in Africa” versus “African philanthropy”. Philanthropy in Africa refers to the more dominant, formal, instituionalised, vertical versions of philanthropy, such as studying foundations, trusts, community chests, and other formal community helping. In this context, Moyo states that the term “philanthrocrats” refers to people who work in the bureaucracy of distributing philanthropic resources and are not necessarily personally philanthropists. Alternatively, African philanthropy refers to the more informal, indigenous, and horizontal forms of communities giving to help the poor, including other poor individuals within the community giving to one another, cooperatives, rotation and savings clubs (stokvels), communal collective efforts, and burial societies (Moyo 2013, p. 48). In this context, anyone can be a philanthropist: a person who personally engages with philanthropy, dynamically as both a recipient and a giver over time. Addressing this life course dynamic to philanthropic engagement, Moyo describes the birth, life, death, and rebirth processes within giving: (a) Birth: as an infant, one is a recipient of the benevolence of others, especially family; (b) Life: as one ages, one is a continued recipient of others’ helping, especially community; (c) Death: after a loved one dies, there are burial costs to garner, and bequests and wills aid in covering these costs; (d) Rebirth: often philanthropic institutions benefit from death and estate bequeaths, and the funds contributed are refueled into the cycle to create rebirth. Through that process, new life begins (Moyo 2010, p. 4). With this African context in mind, Moyo cautions against overly focusing on formal, vertical philanthropy only because it is easier to count. In many ways, horizontal, informal is more important.
In addition, informational interviewee Alan Fowler—Honorary Professor in African Philanthropy at Wits in Johannesburg, South Africa—also extensively studies African philanthropy and highlights the need for attention to informal, horizontal forms of indigenous engagement (e.g., Fowler and Wilkinson-Maposa 2013; Fowler 2016; Fowler and Biekart 2017; Fowler and Mati 2019). Fowler and Biekart (2017) also identify the need to study multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) in the ways that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are implemented cross-culturally. In particular, the researchers studied approaches within four countries: Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, and Costa Rica. Attending to the views of multiple stakeholders on such initiatives raises concerns regarding any approach that unilaterally assumes that philanthropic endeavors are necessarily good. Certainly, voluntary action is united by an intention to benefit others, but how such efforts are defined, and the extent to which they are contextually situated in ways that are beneficial to indigenous cultures, deserves careful and critical attention (e.g., Matthews 2018). Importantly, Jima Dilbo Denbel—Director General at the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) Agency for Civil Society Organizations (ACS)—situates the Ethiopian context within broader understandings of transitional justice (Denbel 2013). Specifically, unlike Western emphasis on the role of individual leaders (e.g., transformational), the goal in Ethiopian social change efforts needs to focus instead on ensuring cohesion and stability across particular leaders. This is a considerably more collective approach to leadership that needs to condition any Ethiopian (perhaps all) study of meso-level philanthropic and NGO organizations. Similarly, Jacob Mwathi Mati—Lecturer of Sociology at the University of South Pacific in Suva, Fiji—studied struggles for transformation of the Kenyan constitution and found that efforts to formulate “common struggle” are of utmost importance in understanding voluntary action (Mati 2017). In this regard, understanding African philanthropy, and perhaps indigenous philanthropy generally, requires attention to participation in social movements, and the unpaid time and labor that are donated to these collective actions (Mottiar and Ngcoya 2016; Mati et al. 2016; Altmann et al. 2016). Beyond the informational interviews, several discovery search publications further corroborate this need to question “who wins and who loses” in philanthropic initiatives (Thomas 1987; Oldfield and Stokke 2007; Olivier 2010; Gray et al. 2016; Brass 2017).
With regard to intersections with religiosity and spirituality, a similar point is made regarding the need to be critical of pre-conceived measurement constructions. For example, in studying AIDS NGOs in Africa, Swidler and Watkins (2017) highlight the need to better understand forms of indigenous spirituality, such as African witchcraft, that are not readily measured by traditional religious affiliation and service attendance questions. Several other scholars also study the role of witchcraft spirituality in understanding African religiosity (e.g., Ashforth 2015; Chilimampunga and Thindwa 2012; Dicks 2013; Launiala and Honkasalo 2010; McNamara 2015; Mgbako and Glenn 2011; Nyasulu 2020; Pell et al. 2013; Van Der Meer 2013). Relatedly, one of the most common topics studied at the intersection of religiosity and generosity in Africa is health (e.g., Cochrane et al. 2014; Luwaile 2015; Proeschold-Bell et al. 2019; Sarkissian 2012; Sharak et al. 2017).
In terms of the systematic search, the last decade of research on religiosity and generosity included 11 studies attending to African geographies in JSSR, and 7 in Voluntas (Bennett and Einolf 2017; Compion 2017; Dowd and Sarkissian 2017; Elsayed 2018; Finke and Martin 2014; Hayford and Trinitapoli 2011; Kinney 2015; Kumi 2019; Luria et al. 2017; Manglos-Weber 2017; Moyer et al. 2012; Offutt 2011; Offutt et al. 2016; Popplewell 2018; Sarkissian 2012; Schnable 2016; Weber 2013; Woods 2012). Combined, these 18 articles attend to the following countries: Burkina Faso (4); Egypt (4); Ghana (4); Nigeria (4); South Africa (4); Tanzania (4); Uganda (4); Madagascar (3); Malawi (3); Rwanda (3); Botswana (2); Liberia (2); Mali (2); Mozambique (2); Namibia (2); Zimbabwe (2); Burundi (1); Cabo Verde (1) Cameroon (1); the Republic of the Congo (1); Eswatini or Swaziland (1); Ethiopia (1); Gabon (1); Lesotho (1); Niger (1); Sudan (1); Togo (1); Zambia (1). Categorized by level, macro-level approaches appeared in African studies of religiosity and generosity 3 times each in JSSR and Voluntas (n = 6), meso-approaches 6 times in JSSR and 3 times in Voluntas (n = 9), and micro-approaches 2 times in JSSR and 1 time in Voluntas (n = 3). In summary, about less than one-fifth of the contemporary articles in JSSR and Voluntas that studied religiosity and generosity attended to African geographies, and these were mostly macro and meso, with fewer micro, approaches.

3.4.2. Asia

Within Asia, a few studies provide a synthesis of existing scholarship of Chinese and Taiwanese philanthropy (e.g., Zheng et al. 2016a, 2016b; Sidel 2016), and the Hudson Institute Global Philanthropy Environment Index resulted in an Asia-Pacific report (GPEI 2019). Additionally, several scholars and research centers overviewed philanthropy in India (Jansons and Handy 2016; Srivastava et al. 2003; Slattery et al. 2020; PRIA 2000, 2003, 2004). Similarly, scholars review the state of philanthropy and informal giving in Turkey (Özer et al. 2016; Campbell and Çarkoğlu 2019); Pakistan (Ghaus-Pasha and Iqbal 2003); the United Arab Emirates (Awofeso et al. 2017; el-Aswad 2015; Ridge and Kippels 2016); Singapore (Prakash and Tan 2015); Indonesia (Nelson et al. 2018); and South Korea (Kim and Hwang 2002).
In the informational interviews within Asia, several scholars provided important background on the political, social, and economic contexts within the countries they studied. Specifically, José Chiu-C. Chen—Professor at Tunghi University and President of the Taiwan Association for Schools of Public Administration and Affairs (TASPAA)—published on policy reform and civil service training among Taiwan officials (Chen and Chiang 2010). Additionally, Muthusami Kumara—Associate Professor of Nonprofit Management and Community Organizations at the University of Florida, Gainesville and Fulbright U.S. Scholar in South Korea 2019–2020—described the process of voluntourism, and Oona Paredes (2019, 2017, 1996)—Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore5—identifies the need to understand cultural desires to preserve traditions and customs, and the way traditionalism conditions citizenship and civil society endeavors in the Philippines.
With regard to Asian generosity, Ling Han—Research Fellow at the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP) in the National University of Singapore6—identified the need to focus on contemporary grassroots philanthropy within Singapore (Han et al. 2019). Additionally, Lam Swee Sum—Associate Professor in the Business School of the National University of Singapore—and David Jeremiah Seah—Pastor in Singapore—in conjunction with colleagues studying the roots of philanthropy, found that intergenerational effects of philanthropy are strong in the U.S., and thus call for the need to study parental role modeling of giving and volunteering in Asia (Lam et al. 2014; 2011). Similar to scholars in Africa, Etin Anwar—Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges—asserted the need to attend to social movements in understanding generosity in Indonesia. In particular, she studied the social and political agency of women who donate time to the voluntary actions of social movements (Anwar 2004; 2010). In Japan, Aya Okada—Associate Professor of Social Structure and Change Laboratory at the Tohoku University Graduate School of Information Sciences in Tohoku, Japan—with colleagues, conducted a literature review of nonprofit sector research in Japan (Okada et al. 2017), and analyzed Japanese nonprofit use of social media during disaster fundraising efforts (Okada et al. 2018). Also in Japan, Naoto Yamauchi—Professor of Economics in the Osaka School of International Public Policy at the Osaka University in Japan, and CEO of the Japan Institute for Public Policy Studies (JIPPS)—with colleagues, studied motivations for volunteering cross-nationally to compare Japan to China, Finland, Belgium, Canada, and the United States (Hustinx et al. 2010).
In China, Anthony J. Spires—Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and Research Fellow in the School of Philanthropy at the Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China—studied the nonprofit sector in China (Spires 2017), as well as how grassroots environmental NGO efforts affect Chinese government (Dai and Spires 2018) and the alternative narratives of volunteering among Chinese youth (Spires 2018). Specifically, youth expressed disdain for the formal approach of existing civic engagement efforts, such as political parties, and instead advocated for more personally engaging, meaningful student-led initiatives. Similarly, in studying Taiwan—Hsin-Huang (Michael) Hsiao—Adjunct Research Fellow and Professor at the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica in Taiwan, and Chairman of the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF)—advocated for attention to social movements within studies of generosity and engagement in civil society (Hsiao 1990, 2011). This recurring theme across under-studied world regions is notable. Also important are the ways that scholars in these regions are critical of many of the mainstream, Western approaches. For example, Oona Paredes critiqued approaches that attempt to treat Filipino culture in a homogenous way, especially with regard to the intersection of altruistic motivations and religiosity (Paredes 1996).
Israel is categorized as within Western Asia in the UN statistical codes and is thus reviewed in this section. Some studies exist that chart the size and scope of the nonprofit sector in Israel (e.g., Gidron and Katz 1998), as well as motivations for philanthropy and volunteerism (Horowitz-Rozen 2018; Kushnirovich and Ribovsky 2012). In terms of informational interviews, Ester Zychlinski—Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Ariel University in Israel—studied collaborations between the government and philanthropic foundations (Almog-Bar and Zychlinski 2014). Ilana Friedrich Silber—Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel—continued the theme of being critical of mainstream, Western approaches by studying the role of civic anger in philanthropy, both as a motivation for giving and as a regime of justification (Silber 2011, 2012, 2016). Deby Babis—Research Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel—studied recipients of NGO efforts and found that Latin American immigrant groups in Isreal did not equally engage young people (Babis et al. 2018).
Within studies of the intersection of religiosity and generosity in Asia, Butt et al. (2017) find religious motivations to be a key aspect of understanding volunteering generally, and specifically in understanding Israeli volunteering (Kushnirovich and Ribovsky 2012). Religious motivations are found for philanthropic engagement generally (e.g., Lam et al. 2014, 2011). In Turkey, religious practices, such as service attendance and prayer, were positively related to charitable giving (Çarkoğlu et al. 2017), and these measures of religiosity were more broadly indicative of civic engagement throughout Muslim-majority countries (Sarkissian 2012). In Indian slums, conversion is integral to belongingness (Roberts 2016). Additionally, informational interviewee Cheng-Pang (Lee 2018)—Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore—studies activism within faith-based organizations in Taiwan and finds meso-level religiosity to be key in understanding this form of engagement (Lee and Han 2016a, 2016b). Plus, Richard Fox—Professor and Chair in the Department of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Victoria, Canada—studied religiosity among the Balinese and its connection to generosity through offerings during services (Fox 2015). Alongside Muthusami Kumaran—Associate Professor of Nonprofit Management and Community Organizations at the University of Florida Gainesville—who studied voluntourism generally (Kumaran and Pappas 2012), Brooke Schedneck—Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Rhodes College—studied tourism in Asia, especially in Thailand and investigated the role of Buddhism in engagement in voluntourism (Schedneck 2015, 2017a, 2017b, 2018a, 2018b, 2019a, 2019b). Also, Min-Young Lee—Associate Professor in the Department of Social Welfare at the Cyber University of Korea—and YoonJoo (Sam) Jang of the Beautiful Foundation—identified several references of research on giving in Korea that The Beautiful Foundation conducted.7
In Israel, Itay Greenspan—Senior Lecturer in the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work at the Hebrew University of Jersusalem—argued that religiosity is part of “embodied cultural capital” that, alongside ethnicity, shaped engagement in advocacy NGOs (Greenspan 2014; Katz and Greenspan 2015). Plus, informational interviewee Gaila Fait—Executive Director of the Institute of Law and Philanthropy at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel—and colleagues, studied patterns of individual charitable giving and found religiosity to be a significant predictor (Drezner et al. 2016). Specifically, two-thirds of Jewish respondents in Israel gave to welfare organizations, compared to two-fifths of non-Jewish respondents in Israel, and the religious nonprofit sector was the third largest in Israel. Moreover, Nurit Novis-Deutsch—Senior Lecturer in the Department of Learning, Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Hafia in Israel—studies religiosity, specifically identity conflicts and value pluralism, also finding that cultures cannot be understood to be homogenous (Novis-Deutsch 2015). Indeed, the recurring theme challenging mainstream approaches to cross-cultural studies reoccurs in Asian scholarship. For example, Minton et al. (2016) identify and respond to existing criticism of global religion research by conducting research within one country. Moreover, Mottiar and Ngcoya (2016) challenge Western preconceptions by studying indigenous philanthropy in South Africa, Japan, Indonesia, and Latin America. Echoing Moyo’s sentiments, the researchers call for greater attention to informal practices. In terms of intersections with religiosity and spirituality, they identify mercy (maitracittata) to be a basic Japanese Buddhist thought that relates to charity, with roots in brotherly love or pure parental love (maitrya) and affection of kindness (kurana).
In terms of the systematic search, the last decade of research on religiosity and generosity included 12 studies attending to Asian geographies in JSSR, and 16 in Voluntas (Akboga and Arik 2019; Bennett and Einolf 2017; Borchgrevink 2017; Campbell and Çarkoğlu 2019; Dinh et al. 2020; Finke and Martin 2014; Khvorostianov and Remennick 2017; Kim and Jung 2020; Kinney 2015; Lee and Han 2016a; Luria et al. 2017; Lussier 2019; Matsunaga et al. 2010; McKendry-Smith 2016; Minton et al. 2016; Nezhina and Ibrayeva 2013; Petersen 2012; Sarkissian 2012; Schnable 2016; Shachar 2014; Shor and Roelfs 2013; Southby et al. 2019; Strichman et al. 2018; Veerasamy et al. 2015; Wang 2017; Woods 2012; Wright and Palmer 2018; Zanbar and Itzhaky 2014). Combined, these 28 articles constitute the largest attention among non-Western geographies and publish data on the following countries: Israel (9); Japan (5); China (4); Turkey (3); Vietnam (3); Bangladesh (2); India (2); Indonesia (2); Jordan (2); Kyrgyzstan (2); Nepal (2); Pakistan (2); Saudi Arabia (2); Sri Lanka (2); Taiwan (2); Hong Kong (1); Iran (1); Kazakhstan (1); Korea, South (1); Macedonia, North (1); Malaysia (1); Myanmar, Burma (1); Philippines (1); Singapore (1); Thailand (1); Turkmenistan (1); Uzbekistan (1). Categorized by level, macro-level approaches appeared in Asian studies of religiosity and generosity 3 times each in JSSR and Voluntas (n = 6), meso-approaches 5 times in JSSR and 11 times in Voluntas (n = 16), and micro-approaches 4 times in JSSR and 2 time in Voluntas (n = 6). In summary, more than one-quarter of the contemporary articles in JSSR and Voluntas that studied religiosity and generosity attended to Asian geographies (the largest proportion of non-Western geographies), and these were mostly meso approaches, which totaled to more articles than macro and micro combined.

3.4.3. Latin America

In terms of general contextual factors that affect the philanthropic and nonprofit sector in Latin America, informational interviewee Ignacio Irrazaval—Director of the Center for Social Policy at the Universidad de Chile—wrote about the decentralization process in Chile that heightened the role of local government financing (Irarrazaval 1994). Likewise, Anabel Cruz—Founder and President of the Communication and Development Institute in Uruguay—reviewed the monumental changes to the political landscape in Uruguay (Cruz 2013). Attending in particular to forms of volunteering and charitable giving, Irarrazaval et al. (2006) documented the size and scope of the nonprofit sector in Chile, and the role of community organizations in fighting poverty in Chile (Irarrazaval 1994; Scarpaci and Irarrazaval 1994). Similarly, informational interviewee Rodrigo Villar—associated with the Center for Research and Studies on Civil Society at the Universidad de Adolfo Ibañez in Chile—defined the size and scope of the nonprofit sector in Colombia (Villar 1998), and Cametella et al. (1998) defined it in Argentina. In Uruguay, Cruz (2013) asserted that participation in social movements and civil society organizations is an important aspect of understanding volunteering, for youth in particular (see also, Thompson and Tapscott 2010). More generally, Pousadela and Cruz (2016) documented the size and scope of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Latin America. Their study included 18 Latin American countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panamá, Paraguay, Perú, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
In México, informational interviewees Jacqueline Butcher and Santiago Sordo—Directora and Director de Investigación (respectively) of the Centro de Investigación y Estudios sobre Sociedad Civil Tecnológico de Monterrey in Monterrey, México—defined the size and scope of individual giving, as well as studied how volunteering and solidarity are expressed in México, compared to South Africa and Egypt (Butcher 2010; Butcher and Einolf 2017; Butcher and Sordo 2016). Additionally, Alejandro Natal (2018)—Professor in the Social Processes Department of the Universidad Autónoma Métropolitana in La Ciudad de México, México—continues to echo the theme expressed by other non-Western scholars of the need to include political representation and civic engagement in civil society within studies of generosity. Reflective of a collective sense of solidarity, Layton (2013) also studied civil society organizations (CSOs) and referred to “shared destiny” and shared responsibility within U.S.-México partnerships for binational philanthropy. Focusing on indigenous philanthropy, Mottiar and Ngcoya (2016, 158) stated:
Studies of Latin American philanthropic practices reveal diverse mechanisms for mutual aid and collective assistance practised among those who sought to survive economic poverty and preserve their cultural traditions in the face of political or ethnic persecution (Sanborn 2005, 7). For example, the ayllu (or wachu in Peru) has been revitalized by indigenous societies in Bolivia and Ecuador. Ayllu is an ancient concept of community based on territorial federation, characterized by rotating leadership, extensive consultation, with the goals of communal consensus and an equitable distribution of resources (Korovkin 2001, 38). Béjar (1997, 379) shows that there are thousands of what he calls peasant and native communities in Peru, involved in “communal work, and in use and free disposition of land, as well as in economic and administrative operation”. These autonomous organizations have substituted or complemented the state’s role in the building and maintenance of mainly communication, irrigation channels and schools.
With regard to the intersection with religiosity, several studies already described also engage in Latin America (Bennett and Einolf 2017; Finke and Martin 2014; Luria et al. 2017; Schnable 2016; Wright and Palmer 2018; Offutt 2011; Adler and Offutt 2017; Audette et al. 2020; Probasco 2016). Adding to this body of scholarship, Layton and Moreno (2014) found in a national study in México—National Survey on Philanthropy and Civil Society (Spanish acronym: ENAFI)—social capital and trust are key predictors of donations to and volunteering for religious causes. In Nicaragua, Reed and Pitcher (2015) studied historical records of discussions in Bible studies and found that discourse within these groups contributed to the construction of “we-ness,” revealing how the social processes of religious activities foster collective identity and participation. In Perú and El Salvador, Moulin-Stożek and Osorio (2018) investigated how young people spend time out of school and found that religious practices and salience were related to prosocial behaviors, such as volunteering.
In terms of the systematic search, the last decade of research on religiosity and generosity included 10 studies attending to Latin American geographies in JSSR, and 3 in Voluntas (Matsunaga et al. 2010; Offutt 2011; Finke and Martin 2014; Reed and Pitcher 2015; Kinney 2015; Scheiber 2016; Probasco 2016; Schnable 2016; Bennett and Einolf 2017; Luria et al. 2017; Adler and Offutt 2017; Wright and Palmer 2018; Audette et al. 2020). Combined, these 13 articles constitute the smallest attention among all the non-Western geographies reviewed in this article and attend to the following countries: Brazil (6); México (5); Argentina (4); El Salvador (4); Perú (4); Chile (3); Colombia (3); República Dominicana (3); Guatemala (3); Nicaragua (3); Costa Rica (2); Ecuador (2); Honduras (2); Panamá (2); Uruguay (2); Venezuela (2); the Bahamas (1); Barbados (1); Belize (1); Bolivia (1); Cuba (1); Haiti (1); Paraguay (1); Puerto Rico (1). Categorized by level, macro-level approaches appeared in Latin American studies of religiosity and generosity 2 times in JSSR and 1 times in Voluntas (n = 3), meso-approaches 7 times in JSSR and 2 times in Voluntas (n = 9), and micro-approaches 1 time in JSSR and 0 times in Voluntas (n = 1). In summary, only 13 percent of the contemporary articles in JSSR and Voluntas that studied religiosity and generosity attended to Latin American geographies (the smallest proportion of non-Western geographies), and these were mostly meso approaches, which totaled to more than double the macro and micro articles.

3.4.4. Middle East

The countries commonly understood to be in the Middle East completely overlap with the combination of Western Asian and Northern Africa countries in the UN codes. These are thus covered in the respective sections above. Suffice it for this section then to attend to the systematic search totals. There were six articles published in contemporary JSSR articles that attended to the intersection of religiosity and generosity. Five of these involved multiple nations from several other world regions. One of these one was macro, two meso, and three micro. There were 9 contemporary articles on the topics in Voluntas, two of which were cross-national comparisons across several major world regions. Of these, two were macro, five were meso, and two were micro. The specific countries for these are identified in their respective sections above. In summary, the Middle Eastern studies continued the trend identified across all non-Western studies of religiosity and generosity. Namely, meso approaches outnumbered macro and micro level studies, although the Middle East is more balanced.

4. Discussion

In summary, a theoretical and analytical framework was proposed for amassing interdisciplinary scholarship into a broader field of knowledge: categorizing relevant research into its level of analysis (macro, meso, and micro). Figure 1 visualized this framework, including the intersections of levels at the boundaries between each (macro-meso, meso-micro). Several examples of generosity-related scholarship in each level were reviewed. The methods and analysis then presented the results of a three-tiered meta-analysis. A total of 1,172 publications were parsed for attention to intersections of religiosity and generosity, across each of the topic keyword permutations. The sample for these publications were drawn first from a purposeful, open, discovery search (n = 137) and second from a systematic search (n = 1,635) with scoped parameters on two interdisciplinary publication outlets that attend to social scientific research on the relevant topics: the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR) and Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations (Voluntas). In addition, the sample was supplemented with publications recommended by the informational interviews with scholars and practitioners involved in research the under-studied, non-Western geographies that were of interest to this study, namely: Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. After parsing for topic relevance, a sample of 88 publications was reviewed in greater depth. These publications were categorized for level of analysis (macro, meso, and micro) as well as geo-tagged for the country(ies) and world region(s) of their collected data. Major themes from each level and geography were reviewed, as were the summaries of informational interviews with scholars and practitioners based within and studying under-studied world regions.
The major findings, in terms of geographic scope, are as follows. Asia was the most studied region outside of the West, then Africa, and the Middle East. Latin America was the least studied region, within only 13 articles published across the sources within the last ten years. Figure 3 maps the publication country counts and evidences several within-region inequalities in the countries which receive more and less attention. In terms of levels, meso-level approaches were the most frequent on the intersection of these topics, and micro were least common.
Additionally, the informational interviews with scholars and practitioners revealed a need to seriously consider the foundational terms and approaches that are employed in non-Western locales. In particular, scholars and practitioners in all under-studied regions critiqued a heavy focus on formal activities alone as Western-biased since it caters to activities that have the most infrastructural support in an area, rather than considering the informal activities that are accessible to everyday people. In this context, philanthropy and religiosity were associated with formal, bureaucratic, and politically charged activities, whereas generosity and spirituality were viewed as better representing personal expressions of values and beliefs, especially for historically marginalized communities.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, P.S.H., B.M., D.R.H.D.; Methodology, P.S.H., D.R.H.D.; Software, P.S.H.; Validation, P.S.H.; Formal Analysis, P.S.H.; Investigation, P.S.H., A.S., D.P.K., R.A.K., A.L.W., J.L.G., D.R.H.D., P.W., K.Y., T.D., J.K., B.M., P.A.N., I.G., S.F.; Resources, P.S.H.; Data Curation, P.S.H.; Writing—Original Draft Preparation, P.S.H.; Writing—Review & Editing, P.S.H., A.S., D.R.H.D.; Visualization, P.S.H.; Supervision, P.S.H.; Project Administration, P.S.H.; Funding Acquisition, P.S.H., D.P.K., J.L.G., P.W., O.O.U., C.C., B.M., G.B., C.O. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research was funded by the University of Notre Dame grant number 262164IUPUI, as part of the Global Religion Research Initiative, which is part of a larger grant award from Templeton Religion Trust of Nassau, Bahamas: grant number TRT0118.


The authors are grateful to the many scholars and practitioners who informed this project, including: Imhotep (Paul) Alagidede, Jacob Mwathi Mati, Alan Fowler, Asefa Tolera, Misganaw Eticha Dubie, Messay Gebremariam, Jima Dilbo Denbel, Abebayehu Jabessa, Annette Zimmer, Beth Saunders, Ali Awni, Paul Zeleza, Bhekinkosi Moyo, Nareman Amin, Sara Fretheim, Jin Yao Kwan, Cheng-Pang Lee, Ling Han, David Jeremiah Seah, Lam Swee Sum, Oona Paredes, Etin Anwar, Brooke Schedneck, Nguyễn Văn Quốc Thái, Angélique Masse Nguyen, Min-Young Lee, Ku Ji Youn, YoonJoo (Sam) Jang, Aya Okada, Naoto Yamauchi, Anthony J. Spires, Hsin-Huang (Michael) Hsiao, José Chiu-C. Chen, Muthusami Kumaran, Ingrid Srinath, Nguyen Khinh (Kevin) Phong, Richard Fox, Quinn Clark, Jacqueline Butcher, Santiago Sordo, Emanuel Johansen, Alejandro Natal, Ignacio Irrazaval, Cecilia Dockendorff, Rodrigo Villar, Anabel Cruz, Paula Schommer, Galia Feit, Deby Babis, Ester Zychlinski, Ilana Silber, Nurit Novis-Deutsch, Bojana Radovanovic, Marko Galjak, Cesar Sahelices, Giuseppe Ugazio, Alison Body, Patricia Quinn, Craig Furneaux, and an anonymous scholar in Israel. In addition, the authors are grateful to several colleagues who aided with the initial discussions or informational interviews that informed this project, including Pamala Wiepking, Una O. Osili, Kidist Yasin, Chelsea Clark, Tiara Dungy, Julia Ashton Kohl, Phoung Anh Nguyen, Itay Greenspan, Sari Freitekh, Gabriel Berger, and Cagla Okten. Lastly, the authors are grateful for the generosity of the three peer reviewers who invested thorough attention in improving this article.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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The disciplines listed are intended to be illustrative of interdisciplinary approaches and are not meant to imply that the units of analysis are reified by discipline. The point in naming disciplines for each level is merely to provide examples of the ways multiple disciplines contribute to a topic. There are plenty of exceptions to general patterns, especially at the intersection of multiple disciplines. For example, political psychologists can study the micro-level foundations of macro-level political outcomes.
Specifically, the longer the duration of survey questions asking about generous activities, the more respondents indicated that they participated in generous activities, indicating a potential social desirability bias by survey duration.
The full conference names are as follows: Association for Research on Nonprofit and Voluntary Associations (ARNOVA: Asia); International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR: Latin America, Asia); European Research Network on Philanthropy (ERNOP); Wits Business School, University of Witwatersrand (Africa); Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR); American Academy of Religion (AAR).
To respect the expertise of the scholars and practitioners, these informational interviews were not anonymized, and all the informants are named in the paper, either in the body or in the acknowledgments.
Since the informational interviews, Oona Thommes Paredes accepted a new position as Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA.
Since the informational interviews, Ling Han accepted a new position as Assistant Professor in the Gender Studies Programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, these references appear to be unavailable publicly or were not specified enough to include further in this analysis. Perhaps this is because they are not published in English.
Figure 1. Visual of macro, meso, and micro levels of analysis with example topics. Source: Author created. NGO: nongovernmental organization.
Figure 1. Visual of macro, meso, and micro levels of analysis with example topics. Source: Author created. NGO: nongovernmental organization.
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Figure 2. Universities with philanthropy centres across the world. Source: Langdon (2017).
Figure 2. Universities with philanthropy centres across the world. Source: Langdon (2017).
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Figure 3. Map of publication count by country, showing within-region inequality. Source: Author created.
Figure 3. Map of publication count by country, showing within-region inequality. Source: Author created.
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Herzog, P.S.; Strohmeier, A.; King, D.P.; Khader, R.A.; Williams, A.L.; Goodwin, J.L.; Doan, D.R.H.; Moyo, B. Religiosity and Generosity: Multi-Level Approaches to Studying the Religiousness of Prosocial Actions. Religions 2020, 11, 446.

AMA Style

Herzog PS, Strohmeier A, King DP, Khader RA, Williams AL, Goodwin JL, Doan DRH, Moyo B. Religiosity and Generosity: Multi-Level Approaches to Studying the Religiousness of Prosocial Actions. Religions. 2020; 11(9):446.

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Herzog, Patricia Snell, Amy Strohmeier, David P. King, Rafia A. Khader, Andrew L. Williams, Jamie L. Goodwin, Dana R. H. Doan, and Bhekinkosi Moyo. 2020. "Religiosity and Generosity: Multi-Level Approaches to Studying the Religiousness of Prosocial Actions" Religions 11, no. 9: 446.

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