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Keywords:

  • corruption;
  • religion;
  • morality;
  • ethics;
  • development;
  • public policy

SUMMARY

There are growing calls for religion to be used in the fight against corruption on the basis of the assumption that religious people are more concerned with ethics than with the non-religious, despite the fact that many of the most corrupt countries in the world also rank highly in terms of religiosity. This article looks at the evidence in the current literature for a causal relationship between religion and corruption and questions the relevance of the methodologies being used to build up this evidence base. This article shows that the new ‘myth’ about the relationship between religion and corruption is based on assumptions not borne out of the evidence. The article presents findings from field research in India and Nigeria that explores how individual attitudes towards corruption may (or may not) be shaped by religion. The research shows that religion may have some impact on attitudes towards corruption, but it has very little likely impact on actual corrupt behaviour. This is because—despite universal condemnation of corruption—it is seen by respondents as being so systemic that being uncorrupt often makes little sense. Respondents, by using a process that Bandura (2002) calls ‘selective moral disengagement’, were able to justify their own attitudes and behaviour vis-a-vis corruption, pointing towards corruption being a classic collective action problem, rather than a problem of personal values or ethics. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.