Pews, Prayers, and Participation

Pews, Prayers, and Participation: Religion and Civic Responsibility in America

Corwin E. Smidt
Kevin R. den Dulk
James M. Penning
Stephen V. Monsma
Douglas L. Koopman
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Pews, Prayers, and Participation
    Book Description:

    Is the "private" experience of religion counterproductive to engagement in public life? Does the "public" experience of religion contribute anything distinctive to civic engagement? Pews, Prayers, and Participation offers a fresh approach to key questions about what role religion plays in fostering civic responsibility in contemporary American society. Written by five prominent scholars of religion and politics, led by Calvin College's Corwin Smidt, the book brilliantly articulates how religion shapes participation in a range of civic activities-from behaviors (such as membership in voluntary associations, volunteering, and charitable contributions) to capacities (such as civic skills and knowledge), to virtues (such as law-abidingness, tolerance, and work ethic). In the course of their study the authors examine whether an individual exhibits a diminished, a privatized, a public, or an integrated form of religious expression, based on the individual's level of participation in both the public (worship) or private (prayer) dimensions of religious life. They question whether the privatization of religious life is counterproductive to engagement in public life, and they show that religion does indeed play a significant role in fostering civic responsibility across each of its particular facets. Pews, Prayers, and Participation is a bold and provocative clarion call to the continuing importance and changing nature of religion in American public life. It will be of particular interest to students and scholars of religion and politics, and culture and politics, as well as general readers with an interest in the impact of religion in the public sphere.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-618-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Religion and Civic Responsibility
    (pp. 1-18)

    During election campaigns, it is commonplace for religious leaders to exhort their followers to a more robust and thoughtful participation in public life. In the 2004 presidential election, for example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops distributed its quadrennial statement on “faithful citizenship,” and the National Association of Evangelicals issued a call for greater “civic responsibility.”¹ What these statements share is the language of duty and obligation, a profoundly others-centered orientation that is reflected in their repeated invocations of the “public interest” or “common good.” By implying that one is obligated or duty bound to act on behalf of members...

  6. 1 Civil Society, Civic Responsibility, and Citizenship
    (pp. 19-40)

    Democracy is associated with institutions that foster “rule by the people,” yet these kinds of institutions (e.g., legislatures, the franchise) do not operate in a vacuum, isolated from the society of which they are a part. Culture shapes the design and operation of democratic institutions, sometimes by defining the very notion of “the people” itself. The United States’ ignominious history of slavery illustrates the point. A set of cultural norms, values, and practices regarding the basic humanity of black Africans led to their systematic exclusion from the vote and from access to other democratic institutions.

    One of the first, and...

  7. 2 Religion in Contemporary America
    (pp. 41-68)

    In this volume we examine the role of religion in fostering civic responsibility, and we do so primarily by analyzing four forms of religious expression that reflect different ways in which Americans are religious. Because our analytical framework represents a new way to examine religion and because it constitutes a central feature of our analysis, it merits an extended discussion.

    Although religious life in America manifests certain distinctive and stable patterns, it also exhibits some important patterns of change. Thus, rather than analyzing specific religious beliefs or religious affiliations, this study begins by examining the way in which people express...

  8. 3 Religion and Membership in Civic Associations
    (pp. 69-97)

    Americans have long shown a propensity to join with others for various collective purposes. Already in the early nineteenth century, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that “the power of association has reached its uttermost development in America” and noted that the country’s citizens hardly despaired of attaining any ends “through the combined power of individuals united in a society” (1969, 199). More than a half century later, Bryce (1910, 281–82) observed that “associations are created, extended, and worked in the United States more quickly and effectively than in any other country.”¹

    Such a tendency to form and join associations might...

  9. 4 Religion, Volunteering, and Philanthropic Giving
    (pp. 98-133)

    Civic responsibility is not limited to associational involvement. Two other kinds of civic behavior have attracted a considerable amount of scholarly attention: the act of volunteering and the act of charitable giving. Cultural expectations related to volunteering and giving charitable donations are deeply embedded in the American civic tradition (Putnam 2000; Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995), and both volunteering and giving are widely prevalent in American life. While exact estimates vary, due partly to the nature and timing of survey questions, somewhere between 45 and 55 percent of Americans usually report that they volunteer at some point over the course...

  10. 5 Religion and Civic Capacities
    (pp. 134-173)

    Responsible citizens willingly share with others through activities such as volunteering, giving, and donating time and resources as needed in their search for “a reasonable balance between their own interests and the common good” (“The Civic Mission of Schools” 2003, 10). But exhibiting civic responsibility does not stop there; it also entails being competent and informed citizens, as responsible citizens exhibit the requisite skills and knowledge needed to accomplish public purposes.

    Not all civic engagement is necessarily of equal value. Some people may engage in civic life and yet possess relatively little awareness and understanding of the matters at hand;...

  11. 6 Religion and Civic Virtues
    (pp. 174-207)

    To be civically responsible, a citizen must possess capacities such as civic skills and knowledge. By themselves, such capacities are morally neutral; they reveal nothing about the citizen’s specific purposes or motivations for acting in public life. The concept of civic virtue brings a moral dimension to the exercise of civic responsibility. To possess civic virtue suggests that a citizen has a disposition to use civic skills and knowledge for socially beneficial purposes and with morally appropriate motivations.

    To speak of morality in this way, especially in a pluralistic society, is inevitably controversial. Some, fearing that such language would produce...

  12. 7 Religion, Civic Participation, and Political Participation
    (pp. 208-232)

    This volume has examined the relationship between religion and civic responsibility, focusing on religion’s role in fostering various behaviors, such as associational involvement, volunteering, and charitable contributions, as well as religion’s role in enhancing civic capacities and cultivating civic virtues. The relationship is complex, but the general patterns found across surveys and over time warrant an empirical conclusion. Our conclusion is this: Religion, overall, helps to generate and maintain the behaviors, capacities, and dispositions that we identify as component parts of civic responsibility. While we acknowledge that religion can foster conflict and dissension, we nevertheless suggest, on the basis of...

  13. Appendix A: Description of Surveys Employed
    (pp. 233-236)
  14. Appendix B: Variation in Questions and Question Wording on Membership in Voluntary Associations
    (pp. 237-240)
  15. Appendix C: Question Wording Related to Volunteering by Survey
    (pp. 241-244)
  16. Appendix D: Question Wording Related to Charitable Giving by Survey
    (pp. 245-246)
  17. References
    (pp. 247-268)
  18. Index
    (pp. 269-280)