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Religion as Social Capital

Producing the Common Good

Edited by Corwin E. Smidt

Publication Year: 2003

While Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone (2000) highlighted the notion of volunteerism, little attention has been paid to religion's role in generating social capital - an ironic omission since religion constitutes the most common form of voluntary association in America today. Featuring essays by prominent social scientists, this is the first book-length systematic examination of the relationship between religion and social capital and what effects religious social capital has on democratic life in the United States.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Front Matter

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pp. v-vi

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii

This volume addresses the relationship between religion and civil society and how the nature of that relationship can serve to shape democratic life. Many of the chapters are drawn from papers presented at the “Conference of Religion, Social Capital, and Democratic Life” held at Calvin College on 16-17 October 1998, sponsored by the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-18

Culture plays a central role in political life because political institutions do not operate in a vacuum, isolated and cut off from the society of which they are a part. Cultural values and practices influence the tone and style of political life as well as the operation of political institutions, and changes in cultural life have a profound impact on how politics is practiced...

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2. Bowling Alone But Serving Together: The Congregational Norm of Community Involvement

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pp. 19-31

In contrast to European countries, people in the U.S. typically do not trust their government nor do they expect it to assist them in performing tasks that serve the needs of diverse groups (Inglehart et al. 1990). Government is typically expected to intervene only in those matters that affect a majority of citizens, and, as a result, Americans are often left with the choice of either attempting...

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3. Religious Social Capital: Its Nature, Social Location, and Limits

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pp. 33-47

It has become now almost a cliché that religion in the United States generates more “social capital” than any other American institution. The sociological evidence linking religion to social capital seems overwhelming. For example, two-thirds of all small groups in America are directly connected with churches and synagogues (Wuthnow 1994b, 56-57). Likewise, two-thirds of those active in...

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4. Faith and Leadership in the Inner City: How Social Capital Contributes to Democratic Renewal

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pp. 49-68

“Them bones, them bones,” Father Al Jost began his prayer.1 The thirty community leaders present were nervous. These women—school secretaries, homemakers, and nurses—came from poor Mexican-American neighborhoods of San Antonio, Texas. They were nervous because they were about to take the stage to lead the twentieth anniversary convention of their organization...

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5. Does Religion Matter? Projecting Democratic Power into the Public Arena

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pp. 69-86

This chapter seeks to contribute to the current conversation regarding religion, social capital, and democratic life in two ways. The bulk of the chapter utilizes the concept of social capital to analyze two leading forms of democratic civic engagement among low-income Americans today. This analysis shows first how religion can, and does, contribute to democratic public life (democratic both in...

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6. Religion and Volunteering in America

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pp. 87-106

Religion should hold pride of place in any discussion of the state of social capital in America. Churches are by far the most prevalent form of voluntary association, and previous research has shown that religious involvement is linked with other forms of civic engagement (Hodgkinson, Gorski, Noga, & Knauft 1995; Greeley 1997b). Churches enhance civic engagement by teaching civic...

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7. The Religious Basis of Charitable Giving in America: A Social Capital Perspective

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pp. 107-120

Survey data collected over the past decade indicate that Americans are generous contributors to charities. More than two-thirds of all households contributed to charities between 1987 and 1995, with the average annual household contribution being about $1,000. This level of giving has not changed significantly over the past eight years. Similarly, the percentage of annual household income...

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8. Ties That Bind and Flourish: Religion as Social Capital in African-American Politics and Society

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pp. 121-137

When a large bank loaned one million dollars to a small, struggling storefront church in Queens, New York, to enable it to construct a new church building, many wondered why a bank would lend money to such a risky enterprise. The decision to grant the loan was influenced by the provisions of the Federal Community Reinvestment Act, a law stipulating that banks doing business in...

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9. Social Capital and Societal Vision: A Study of Six Farm Communities in Iowa

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pp. 139-152

Most discussions of social capital and the state of civil society focus on interpersonal relations and the behavior and beliefs of individuals. However, as Wuthnow notes in Chapter 12, this approach leads to an over-emphasis on small, informal, and voluntary settings, and it emphasizes individual moral resolve, trustworthiness, character, and altruistic sentiments. In so doing, it...

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10. Religious Involvement, Social Capital, and Political Engagement: A Comparison of the United States and Canada

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pp. 153-169

Democracy, as Tocqueville insisted, requires civic associations that are not specifically political in nature, yet ones that still function as sources of meaning and social engagement. As he took note of American life in the early 1800s, Tocqueville observed that the United States had a breadth and depth of group participation that appeared to be unmatched anywhere. For Tocqueville, associational...

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11. The Language of God in the City of Man: Religious Discourse and Public Politics in America

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pp. 171-189

Religion’s place in contemporary American political society is by no means self-evident. We have a religiously and socially pluralist society with an ostensibly secular polity. In such a situation, how does, and how should, religion fit in? This volume has offered, en toto, one answer: religion forms a vital part of civil society and, at least partly through the generation of social capital, helps...

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12. Can Religion Revitalize Civil Society? An Institutional Perspective

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pp. 191-209

Assessing the role of religion in revitalizing civil society requires addressing four questions: What is civil society? What are the marks of its vitality or lack of vitality? Is there compelling evidence that some or all of these particular marks have declined? And how might religion contribute to the strengthening of those aspects of civil society that are declining or prevent their further erosion? I shall...

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13. Religion, Social Capital, and Democratic Life: Concluding Thoughts

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pp. 211-222

Over the past two decades, the concept of social capital has drawn a great deal of scholarly attention among social scientists, and it has fostered considerable research related to its presence, its availability, and its consequences. Not only has scholarly interest been generated, but considerable scholarly debate has emerged as well...


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pp. 223-238


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pp. 239-254

About the Contributors

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pp. 255-257


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pp. 259-266

E-ISBN-13: 9781602580480
E-ISBN-10: 1602580480
Print-ISBN-13: 9780918954855
Print-ISBN-10: 0918954851

Page Count: 273
Publication Year: 2003

Edition: 1st