PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Early evidence shows religiously based social service programs might be more effective than secular ones, but studies have been few and their methods uneven, a University of Pennsylvania survey concluded.
A review of about 100 studies on faith-based efforts such as rehabilitation for prison inmates showed somewhat better success rates than other, nonreligious programs.
''The early returns look quite positive,'' said chief researcher Byron R. Johnson of Penn's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society. But the report said more research is needed before making any firm conclusions.
Penn professor John J. DiIlulio Jr. also cautioned that it remains unproven that the ''faith factor'' -- or spiritual beliefs alone -- account for the varying effectiveness of secular and religious programs.
DiIlulio was the first director of the White House office for President Bush's attempt to boost faith-based charities.
By some accounts, religious groups spend as much as $20 billion a year on services for 70 million Americans, according to the study.
A separate review of 670 studies found overwhelming evidence that people who worship regularly have lower rates of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, non-marital childbearing and other health and social woes.
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