This paper is presented as part of the Working Papers series for COMM-ORG: The On-line Conference on Community Organizing and Development. Copyright is held by the author. To cite, use: [author] [date] [title], paper presented on COMM-ORG: The On-Line Conference on Community Organizing and Development.


Mark Warren, Project Director






Faith-based community organizing has emerged as one of the most important initiatives to rebuild inner city communities and revitalize democratic life in America. Thousands of congregations across the country have engaged their members in collaborative efforts to improve schools, promote economic development, fight crime and violence, and build affordable housing. Four major networks sponsor affiliates in over one hundred and twenty localities, with each affiliate encompassing from ten to sixty congregations. Affiliates in Texas, California and elsewhere work together on state-wide campaigns to improve public schools and raise the minimum wage. Meanwhile, new faith-based efforts emerge almost daily, including many unaffiliated with the major networks. Faith-based efforts have drawn tens of thousands of community leaders into political action in order to win important improvements in the lives of millions of poor and working people. This rapidly growing movement has brought new energy into our political system and brought new hope to devastated communities.

The purpose of this project is to begin systematically comparing the experiences of different faith-based community organizing efforts. Scholars have begun to give this movement the in-depth, critical evaluation that it deserves. This scholarship, of necessity, has consisted mainly of case studies of particular community organizing networks and efforts. By comparing efforts that are composed of different kinds of religious institutions, that follow different strategies, and that operate in different localities, the project will serve to raise our theoretical understanding of the contributions and limitations of religious institutions in fostering democratic participation and rebuilding inner cities. Much of the case study research is being conducted by "younger" scholars, with recent PhDs or still in graduate school. This project provides an opportunity to bring these scholars together to support our emerging research community and to stimulate scholarship in this area.

The discussion papers presented here constitute the first phase of this project. The papers were originally presented at a panel I organized last summer at the annual meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. The session brought together scholars who are conducting in-depth studies of some of the most important community organizing efforts across the country. Drawing upon their own research, each panelist wrote a discussion paper in answer to the following set of questions:

1. What is it about religious institutions that makes them apparently well-suited to community organizing efforts? Are some religious traditions better suited than others?

2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the political strategies followed by community organizing efforts? Are some strategies more effective than others in addressing urban problems and in generating democratic action?

3. What aspects of the political and community environment aid or hinder the success of religious-based community organizing efforts?

The participants, and the community organizing initiatives they discuss, include:



As a continuation of this project, I have organized a session on the topic of "Faith-based Community Organizing and America’s Racial Divide," to be held in San Francisco Thursday, August 20, at the 1998 meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. The purpose of this session is to evaluate the contributions and limitations of faith-based efforts to empower communities of color and to overcome racial divisions. Despite the gains of the civil rights movement and other efforts at political empowerment, many poor communities of color lack the political capacity to rebuild their communities. Meanwhile, racism has undermined the ability of Americans to work together to solve our common problems and inhibited the broad public support necessary to combat poverty and racial injustice. Faith-based community organizing represents a promising alternative. Faith-based projects have engaged a variety of racial communities in their efforts. In many cases they have brought congregations together across racial lines to support each other and to work for common goals. This session will critically examine the contributions that faith-based efforts are making to heal America’s racial divide. Participants in this session include all of the panelists involved so far (listed above). We will be joined by Timothy Ross at the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York Graduate Center, who will discuss East Brooklyn Congregations and other Metro New York Industrial Areas Foundation initiatives. Participants will write discussion papers in answer to the following set of questions.

1. To what extent do different racial communities become involved in faith-based community organizing? What explains differential involvement?

2. To what extent do different faith-based efforts bring religious communities together across racial lines and for what purposes? What are the contributions of community organizing networks to our understanding of how to promote multiracial cooperation?

3. Does involvement in community organizing broaden participants’ political identities or conceptions of the common good? Does is challenge racism or racial intolerance?

The next step in this project will be the organization of a conference devoted to evaluating faith based community organizing initiatives. For the conference, we hope to broaden participation in this project in two ways. We want to include a broader range of scholars, particularly those studying efforts that are not currently covered. We are particularly interested to include scholars studying the Gamaliel Foundation, DART, and other independent organizing efforts particularly in the South and Midwest. Second, we want to include practitioners to comment on some of the papers and engage in the conference discussions. The project will culminate by publishing papers from the conference in an edited volume.

 We invite your participation in this project. First, please send your comments on these papers to COMM-ORG: The On-Line Conference on Community Organizing and Development -- or to the author(s) individually. Second, please attend the session on race and faith-based organizing at the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) meetings (for information on the meeting, contact: ASR 3520 Wiltshire Drive Holiday, FL 34691-1239). The ASR meetings are held concurrently with the meetings of the American Sociological Association in August in San Francisco. Third, please inquire about participation in our proposed conference on faith-based organizing. We welcome any suggestions for participants, topics, etc. Please send inquiries and suggestions to the project director:

Mark R. Warren
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Fordham University
441 East Fordham Road
Bronx, NY 10458
(718) 817-3873

Project Participants and Discussion Paper Authors:

Michael Byrd
Learning Technology Center
Box 45
Peabody College
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN 37203-0045
Donna C. (Katie) Day
The Lutheran Theological Seminary
7301 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19119-1794
Tel. 215 248-4616
Omar McRoberts
Harvard University
Department of Sociology
William James Hall
Cambridge, MA 02138
Tel. 617 354-7127
Fax 617 496-5794
Richard L. Wood
Department of Sociology
University of New Mexico
1915 Roma NE, SSCI 1110
Albuquerque, NM 87131-1166
phone: 505-277-3945
fax: 505-277-8805