By Michael E. Price and Jacques Launay
Religiosity appears to benefit wellbeing, potentially due to social support offered by religious communities. However, rising secularism implies that fewer people have access to these benefits. To address this problem, we investigated whether these benefits could also be obtained from membership in a secular, quasi-religious community. We conducted a longitudinal study among 92 members of the Sunday Assembly (SA), an international organization of secular congregations. SA members assemble in large services and in smaller interest groups that offer more face-to-face interaction. Once a month for six months, participants completed a questionnaire measuring wellbeing and participation in both SA and non-SA social activities. Panel analysis of longitudinal data revealed that participation in SA small-group activities positively influenced wellbeing over the six-month period, particularly among males. Participation in non-SA social activities, in contrast, had no effect on wellbeing. Aspects of the Sunday service that members perceived as most important, both for creating a sense of community and for friendship formation, were the informal socialising and cooperating that occurs before and after the service itself. Secular congregations may be a viable alternative for non-religious people (and perhaps especially men) who seek the health benefits that religious communities have traditionally offered.
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