Several theoretical perspectives provide a basis for viewing religiosity as a deterrent for crime. The potential pathways of effects of religiosity on crime and violence have been reviewed by Baier and Wright (2001) in their meta-analysis of the effect of religion on crime. These include:
- The hellfire hypothesis, which predicts that religion deters individual-level criminal behavior through the threat of supernatural sanctions and promotes normative behavior through the promise of supernatural reward (Hirschi & Stark, 1969).
- Social control theory, which posits that religious institutions instill normative beliefs and foster individual attachment, commitment, and involvement with the larger society (Hirschi & Stark, 1969; Marcos, Bahr, & Johnson, 1986).
- Rational choice theory, which asserts that religious individuals are deterred from committing criminal acts through shame from deviant acts and self-imposed sanctions on behavior (Grasmick, Bursik, & Cochran, 1991).
- Differential association theory, which emphasizes that religion deters crime through both social selection (the selection of peers with similar beliefs) and socialization (religious peer influence alters individual commitments through positive reinforcement) (Burkett & Warren, 1987; Burkett, 1993; Wright et al., 1999).
- Reference group theory, which suggests that religion deters crime through the interaction with a religiously centered peer group that shares similar prosocial backgrounds and beliefs and shapes each others behaviors and attitudes (Bock, Cochran, & Beeghley, 1987).