Houses of Service
Wineburg examines role of churches in public service
According to UNCG’s Dr. Bob Wineburg, there’s a gap between perceived religious life in America and the reality of religious life in America.
There’s what he calls the “religious industry,” which is focused on high-profile issues such as abortion and religious freedom. And then there are the millions of acts by congregations – the coat drives and the warm meals – that greatly contribute to public life with little fanfare.
It’s these acts that have fascinated Wineburg for decades.
Since the 1980s, Wineburg, a professor in the Department of Social Work, has partnered with religious communities to study their role as “houses of service.” Now, he’s compiling all of the scholarship in the field as editor of “Religion, Welfare and Social Service Provision: Common Ground,” a special edition of the international academic journal Religions.
This special edition features articles from top community-engaged scholars in the United States and Australia. UNCG’s Dr. Jay Poole, Dr. John Rife, Dr. Daniel Rhodes and Fran Pearson contributed to the edition, along with professors from Duke University, University of Pennsylvania and Bucknell University, among others. Their findings are the result of years of developing deep relationships with congregations and faith leaders.
Why is this research important? Wineburg explains that contractual relationships with religious congregations providing public service date back to the beginning of the nation, when Quakers transformed their poorhouses into hospitals and contracted with the Continental Army to serve wounded veterans.
“Religious communities and their contributions to the collective are the least understood part of our voluntary tradition in the United States,” he said.
The special edition provides a better understanding of the partnerships between religious communities, government and nonprofit organizations and what makes them successful. Ultimately, Wineburg plans to assemble the articles into a volume that will help shape best practices and guide younger scholars in the field.
“There’s a whole generation of engaged scholars out there who want to solve real-world issues,” he said. “This is an opportunity to put all of the work that’s been done in the field in one spot.”
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications