cover image SAVING AMERICA?: Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society

SAVING AMERICA?: Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society

Robert Wuthnow, . . Princeton Univ., $29.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-691-11926-7

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)