Category Archives: Social Capital

Obama, religion and civil society

Madeline Bunting discusses Obama’s religious faith in today’s Guardian in particular his understanding of religiously-motivated civic activism:

Obama’s faith cannot be explained away as political opportunism to meet the conventions of American politics. The conversion was well before a political career seemed possible; besides, his faith has dragged him into plenty of controversy during his campaign. Recently, liberal secular allies have been shocked by his decision not to dismantle, but to take over and expand, Bush’s controversial flagship policy of funding faith-based organisations to provide social services. Even worse, he has chosen the evangelical preacher Rick Warren (opposes gay marriage, anti-abortion but passionate on social justice and climate change) to deliver the prayer at the inauguration. The point is that Obama has not wavered in his passionate faith in the progressive potential of religious belief since he first encountered it in south Chicago in community organising. He was in his 20s, and for three years he was trained in a politics based on a set of principles developed by a Jewish criminologist and an ex-Jesuit with borrowings from German Protestant theologians.

Obama described these three years of community organising as the “best education I ever had”. Michelle says of her husband that “he is not first and foremost a politician. He’s a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.” Continue reading


Labour vice chair says Britain needs more Christians to shape its future for the better

Traidcraft Chief Exec Paul Chandler, Stephen Timms MP and Chino Henriquez of Chilean co-operative ApicoopEkklesia reports that Stephen Timms, the Labour Party’s vice-chair with special responsibility for faith communities, has highlighted the critical role of Christian organisations in shaping modern Britain.

Speaking at the national conference of Traidcraft, the Christian-based fair trade organisation he said:

“There is positive impact when Christians are involved in the lives of their community, because these people bring valuable qualities in their service which are rare elsewhere and they are qualities modern Britain urgently needs,”

“If our aim is a new world freed from the injustice and poverty, we need active input in our communities from people whose starting point is Christianity, and Traidcraft is a very good example of what can happen when we get it.”

 His remarks have upset Muslim groups who… Continue reading

How effective are electronic petitions?

Petitions have long been sent to the British Prime Minister by post or delivered to the Number 10 door in person. But since November 2006 people have been able to both create and sign petitions on the Number 10 website too, giving them the opportunity to reach a potentially wider audience and to deliver petitions directly to Downing Street.As of mid-June 2007:

  • 22,336 petitions have been set-up by users, of which 7.563 are currently live and available for signing, 2680 have finished and 10,501 have been rejected outright.
  • There have been 4,431,417 signatures, originating from 3,214,070 different email addresses.

All petitions have a deadline and once passed the government will email their current position on the issue as long as it has received over 200 signatures (unless they relate specifically to small groups for example, people from a small community). The advantages of the system are that petitioners can show their support much more easily and that government can then write directly to people much more efficiently than if they had to respond to individual letters. It also forces people to be a lot more specific in their points. At the same time it offers people a way to vent their frustrations and connect with government more easily than if they had to knock out a letter. Continue reading

Other organisations could learn from churches in rebuilding social capital

Robert PutnamThe Guardian has a feature on American social scientist Robert Putnam his first paper “on his five-year study of social capital in the US – the biggest survey of its kind – which concludes that ethnic diversity does reduce social capital. He found that the higher the diversity in a neighbourhood, the lower the levels of trust, political participation and happiness between and within the ethnic groups, and he called it “hunkering”. But what has prompted criticism is not his analysis of hunkering, which the right has seized upon with delight, but his optimistic assertion that this is a short-term problem that, with “intelligence and creativity”, can be overcome. …[His] Harvard/Manchester research programme has identified four initial areas of social change on which to focus: immigration; the changing workplace and the consequences of women moving into the paid workforce; the changing role of religion in society; and inequality, particularly the mounting evidence of the inheritance of class and how it restricts social mobility.

…What fascinates him is tracking where the new forms of social capital are developing and why they are successful. One of his key areas of interest is religion – religious affiliations account for half of all US social capital. He cites US megachurches which, typically, attract tens of thousands of members, as “the most interesting social invention of late 20th century.” Continue reading