Cover image for Saving America? : faith-based services and the future of civil society
Saving America? : faith-based services and the future of civil society
Wuthnow, Robert.
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Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xviii, 354 pages ; 24 cm
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HV530 .W885 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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On January 29, 2001, President George W. Bush signed an executive order creating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. This action marked a key step toward institutionalizing an idea that emerged in the mid-1990s under the Clinton administration--the transfer of some social programs from government control to religious organizations. However, despite an increasingly vocal, ideologically charged national debate--a debate centered on such questions as: What are these organizations doing? How well are they doing it? Should they be supported with tax dollars?--solid answers have been few.

In Saving America? Robert Wuthnow provides a wealth of up-to-date information whose absence, until now, has hindered the pursuit of answers. Assembling and analyzing new evidence from research he and others have conducted, he reveals what social support faith-based agencies are capable of providing. Among the many questions he addresses: Are congregations effective vehicles for providing broad-based social programs, or are they best at supporting their own members? How many local congregations have formal programs to assist needy families? How much money do such programs represent? How many specialized faith-based service agencies are there, and which are most effective? Are religious organizations promoting trust, love, and compassion?

The answers that emerge demonstrate that American religion is helping needy families and that it is, more broadly, fostering civil society. Yet religion alone cannot save America from the broad problems it faces in providing social services to those who need them most.

Elegantly written, Saving America? represents an authoritative and evenhanded benchmark of information for the current--and the coming--debate.

Author Notes

Robert Wuthnow is Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. His books include American Mythos: Why Our Best Efforts to Be a Better Nation Fall Short (Princeton), Acts of Compassion , and Poor Richard's Principle .

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Princeton sociologist Wuthnow, known for his rigorous and sympathetic studies of American mainstream religion (All in Sync; Sharing the Journey; etc.), here examines the role of congregations and "faith-based organizations" in providing services to the needy. Based on original research, field work and major studies of the last 20 years, this book will undoubtedly become required reading in the ongoing debate about public funding of religious charities. Champions of such funding will find much to confirm their core argument that religious groups deserve more recognition for the quantity and quality of their services. But Wuthnow goes beyond previous literature in attending to the differences between congregations, which provide uniquely personal forms of support to their members and surrounding community, and "faith-based" service organizations, which seem not to differ markedly from their secular equivalents in quality of service or even in their outward religious orientation. To his credit, Wuthnow explores the neglected topic of how recipients, not just caregivers, perceive social services. He also analyzes the role of "trust" and "unconditional love" in caregiving, territory better suited to psychology or philosophy than social science, but even here his data offer occasional insights (e.g., having been on welfare reduces the odds that a person has volunteered to serve others, whereas having received assistance from a congregation more than doubles the odds that he or she has done so). The book is heavy on statistical tables and light on inspiring sound bites, but pundits, policy wonks and socially conscious church leaders will find Wuthnow's judicious analysis indispensable. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this fine book, Wuthnow (sociology & director, Ctr. for the Study of Religion, Princeton Univ.) carefully and clearly analyzes and evaluates the positive roles American religious entities (churches and faith-based service agencies) play in maintaining the diversity and cohesiveness of our society and the acceptance of responsibility for helping those in need. He cites numerous studies and research supporting an understanding that religion-based organizations can and do make contributions to the needy by providing both emotional and financial support. He evaluates the implications of permitting federal funding for some faith-based agencies, the distinction between these agencies and congregation-based churches, the social relationships of religious groups, and their interaction with the communities in which they operate. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. Suzanne W. Wood, emerita, SUNY Coll. of Technology at Alfred (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

As Wuthnow (Princeton Univ.) notes in his preface, the "debate about faith-based social services has been highly partisan and highly politicized." The author steps back from the political rancor to provide a highly nuanced and empirically informed evaluation of program "scope" and "effectiveness." He notes that about half of all congregations are involved in direct support of social services, but only in rare cases do these programs constitute a significant component of a congregation's budget. While monetary contributions are limited, religious organizations also serve as "staging grounds" for service delivery by fostering care for others, voluntarism, "bonding" and "bridging" between diverse groups, and encouraging trust and love between people. A critical issue in the debate is the extent to which faith is integrated into service delivery. Wuthnow demonstrates that many faith-based organizations do not differ at all from their nonreligious counterparts, while others incorporate faith at all levels. He ends with a discussion of how faith-based social services contribute to the civic landscape, and how this role may change if a larger share of public monies becomes available to them. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All audiences. C. M. Hand Valdosta State University

Table of Contents

List of Tablesp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
1 Why "Faith-Based"? Why Now?p. 1
Bringing Evidence to Bearp. 5
Beyond the Modernization Storyp. 9
The Faith-Based Services Debatep. 12
Religion as an Embedded Practicep. 17
A Civil Society?p. 22
2 Congregation-Based Social Servicesp. 25
Formal Sponsorship of Service Programsp. 28
Members' Awareness of Service Programsp. 42
Congregations' Financial Contributionp. 46
Which Congregations Do More?p. 52
How Service Programs Are Organizedp. 57
Conclusions and Unanswered Questionsp. 61
3 Congregations as Caring Communitiesp. 64
Emphasizing the Value of Caringp. 66
Congregations as Civic Spacep. 70
Caring in Small Groupsp. 74
Congregations as Sources of Social Capitalp. 79
Gregariousnessp. 84
Congregations as Sources of Influential Friendsp. 89
Overcoming Status Distinctionsp. 92
Summing Upp. 94
4 Religion and Volunteeringp. 99
What Surveys Showp. 102
Who Volunteers More?p. 106
Is Faith-Based Volunteering Different?p. 115
Volunteering and Connectednessp. 119
Motivations for Volunteeringp. 121
Barriers to Volunteeringp. 132
Some Unresolved Questionsp. 135
5 Faith-Based Service Organizationsp. 138
How Many Faith-Based Organizations Are There?p. 140
How is Faith Involved?p. 142
How Faith-Based Organizations Functionp. 150
Arguments about Effectivenessp. 158
The Role of Faith in Nonsectarian Organizationsp. 161
Challenges and Strategiesp. 165
Conclusionsp. 171
6 The Recipients of Social Servicesp. 176
Census Bureau Informationp. 177
Evidence from Other Sourcesp. 181
Religious Characteristics of the Lower-Income Populationp. 185
Needs and Services in a Small Cityp. 191
Conclusionsp. 213
7 Promoting Social Trustp. 217
Trust among Lower-Income Peoplep. 219
Desirable Traits of Caregiversp. 222
Tr ustworthiness of Service Providersp. 228
A Closer Look at Trustp. 232
Trust within Families and among Friendsp. 240
Trust in Congregationsp. 243
Trust in Service Agenciesp. 247
When Trust Is Brokenp. 250
The Social Contribution of Trustp. 254
8 Experiencing Unlimited Love?p. 256
How Caregivers Talk about Lovep. 261
Do Recipients Experience Love?p. 269
The Role of Faithp. 275
Consequences of Receiving Carep. 279
Limited Love and the Realities of Social Lifep. 284
9 Public Policy and Civil Societyp. 286
Support for Government-Religion Partnershipsp. 288
The Christian Conservative Movementp. 297
Is Civil Society One-Dimensional?p. 305
Methodological Notep. 311
Notesp. 315
Select Bibliographyp. 333
Indexp. 349