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Shaped by Marxist understandings of religion as a source of comfort, but not action, numerous scholars have explored whether various aspects of religion can be linked to participatory acts, either in politics or in civic life more generally. Decades of social scientific research on the subject offer no simple lessons regarding the relationship between religion and participation. Some elements or aspects of religion have been demonstrated to drive down levels of civic and political engagement. Although the whole picture is much more complicated, it is accurate to say that private devotionalism and other facets of religious belief that emphasize individual spirituality and a relationship with the divine over taking steps to improve conditions on Earth are going to promote detachment from the civic realm. By contrast, collective aspects of religious belief and practice often track with greater levels of political participation. These collective elements include the creation of religiously based social networks, as well as opportunities to practice civic skills and receive entreaties to political action. At a different level of analysis, government action on such moral issues as abortion and same-sex marriage has served as a spur to the political involvement of religious interests, whereas government regulation of religion has been shown to deter participation in the civic arena by religious organizations and groups. Taken together, the literature on religion and participation suggests that religion can serve as both a spur to civic and political engagement and as a suppressant, depending both on an individual’s approach to his or her faith and on the institutional dynamics that impinge on the political involvement of religious interests in the public square more generally.

Article

The concept of resource mobilization helps explain how and why religious beliefs and attachments can become a political force. Religious actors achieve their political aims only when they are able to mobilize resources on behalf of a particular cause. While material resources are perhaps the most intuitive prerequisite for social movement success, what sets religious activism apart is not access to capital, but rather activists’ ability to leverage organizational, moral, cultural, and human resources. Religious groups ranging from local churches to broad-based parachurch organizations take advantage of organizational resources to support their goals. Religious activists also leverage moral resources by reframing a cause in appropriate moral terms to spur potential supporters into action or gain direct institutional access. Cultural resources, particularly civic skills that are developed in apolitical contexts, are regularly adapted and appropriated to achieve political objectives. And, human resources such as local congregational leadership are an important factor in political movements ranging from the American civil rights movement to the prolife movement.