01: Businesses based in more religious areas are less likely to experience stock price crashes resulting from not divulging bad financial news, according to a study by Jeffrey Callen of the University of Toronto and Xiaohua Fang of Georgia State University.
The study, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, compares county-level data on church membership and the number of congregations with information about stock returns and accounting restatements for U.S. companies, including where the firms were headquartered. The researchers found a strong correlation between religiosity and a low risk of stock price crash due to bad news “hoarding,” particularly among companies with weak governance. In cases where there is weak corporate governance, religion can act as a substitute for it.
Callen noted that the social norm need not be religious to play this function. It also did not matter if those at the top of these companies were religious or not; just being in towns where social norms are influenced by religious codes of behavior was enough to rub off on the companies operating there. Previous research has found that religious managers are less likely to manipulate the flow of information and that a religious setting encourages more whistleblowers within a company.
02: American Catholic bishops tend to have different trajectories in leadership than their counterparts in the corporate world, with diocesan performance decreasing upon their appointments, according to a paper by economist Charles Zech of Villanova University.
The paper was presented at the conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Boston in November, which RW attended. The research is based on bishops leading dioceses in 2011 and the number of diocesan seminarians and the number of individuals converting to Catholicism through completion of RCIA (Catholic initiation) courses. Studies of management have found that organizational performance tends to increase upon the appointment of a new CEO, but ultimately decreases. For bishops newly appointed to a diocese, the relationship was negative between tenure and performance on both measures.
This may mean that matching a bishop to the needs of a diocese was ineffective at the time of appointment and such bishops are unlikely to improve their performance over time, at least based on the trajectory of secular corporations. There was, however, a positive correlation between those bishops with more experience leading a diocese and organizational performance.
On the congregational level, transitions in leadership are no less fraught, though such changes do not have a long-term effect on congregations, according to a new study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (December). In an analysis of the National Congregations Study (2006-2007), Erica Dollhopf and Christopher Scheitle examine whether leadership transitions are associated with membership decline and congregational conflict.
As for membership declines, the researchers find that even if such losses occur during the period of leader transition, they tend to be short term and isolated to very recent transitions. Female-headed congregations reported less growth than male-headed ones, and conservative and moderate/liberal Protestant congregations reported more growth than Catholic parishes. Contrary to expectations, a leader coming from within the congregation tended to damper growth than was the case of selecting a outsider. This may be because the outside leader is an unknown factor and may have a less polarizing effect on the congregation.
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1468-5906).
03: For the first time since the Gallup polls began tracking public respect for clergy in 1977, fewer than half of respondents now say these religious professionals have “high” or “very high” morals.
In a Gallup poll conducted in early December, only 47 percent of respondents gave clergy “high” or “very high” ratings — a sharp drop from the peak year of 1985, when 67 percent described clergy this way. The trend started sloping downward in 2001, which Gallup pollsters attributed to the negative influence of the clerical abuse scandals. This year, clergy trailed behind nurses, pharmacists, grade school teachers, medical doctors, military officers and the police.
04: “Fresh expressions” a movement of unconventional church plants in the Church of England are something of a success story.
They are growing fast and spreading throughout England, even if they are attracting fewer of the “unchurched” than was hoped for. FutureFirst newsletter (December), a publication digesting research on religion in the UK, notes that a Fresh Expression congregation can include anything from pub cafés to what is called “church without walls.” The Church of England’s Church Army Research Unit evaluated six dioceses, which has seen 360 Fresh Expressions start-ups between 1992 and 2012. Of these, only 10 percent failed within two years of starting — a much lower percentage than for church plants generally, according to the newsletter.
The Fresh Expression’s congregations show a four-fold increase of members since starting. Since three-quarters of these congregations were started between 2006 and 2012, such growth in five years time is considered a very rapid rate of increase. It was expected that over half (53 percent) of those who came to Fresh Expressions would be unchurched; in reality, only 42 percent are unchurched, with more Christians and “de-churched” (those who have left their churches) attending.
A reported 13 percent of Fresh Expressions churches meet in city centers and other urban areas, 13 percent in suburban areas, 16 percent in towns, 30 percent in rural areas and 28 percent are on council or estate property.
(FutureFirst, The Old Post Office, 1 Thorpe Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 UK).