LectureHop: Faith in Welfare?

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On Thursday afternoon, Liz Jacob, Bwog’s Charitable Affairs Bureau Chief, ventured into the bowels of SIPA to report on a lecture by Jason Hackworth, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography and Urban Planning.

Hackworth opened his discussion with a brief analysis one of field’s most popular buzzwords—neoliberalism. Often decried by a public looking to the state for social reform, neoliberalism features the principle of limited government. Indeed, the apparent lack of intervention in issues of public welfare is almost universally seen as a “failure” of government.

Prominent in today’s news media, the “broken” state is a scapegoat for all social deficiencies in the public sphere. As a result, conservatives and liberals alike have come to increasingly support the development of private charities as an antidote to governmental failure. Here, Hackworth identifies specifically the prevalence of faith-based organizations, or FBOs.

Liberals and conservatives alike have increasingly come to support to development of private charities as an antidote to governmental failures.  According to Hackworth, faith-based organizations (FBO’s) are the most prominent of these private organizations, and can be seen in four ways: as extensions of the state, enhancements of the state, catalysts for change, or alternatives to the state. Faith-based organizations receiving state funding are limited to secular work, and consequently, they function along the lines of NGOs.

Those who support an increased religious presence in governmental affairs argue that FBOs are superior to public works organizations. Following this line of reasoning, faith-based organizations can also serve to inspire political change or, even more radically, serve as a replacement for state welfare programs altogether.

To assess the media’s opinion of faith-based organizations, Hackworth analyzed reports on Habitat for Humanity, a national FBO, in six newspapers—three liberal and three conservative—in the United States and Canada. Across the board, these newspapers framed FBOs like Habitat for Humanity as solutions to the welfare state. In fact, Hackworth found that certain news media saw the managerial state as an obstacle to Habitat for Humanity.

On the local scale, Hackworth addressed gospel rescue missions—faith-based organizations that comprise ten percent of all emergency shelters nationally and continue to grow. More explicitly religious than national FBOs, these missions take an individualized approach to homelessness, often requiring chapel attendance as a requirement for meals or shelter.

Whether local or national, the FBOs addressed in Hackworth’s lecture generally emphasized their independence from the government, perhaps a sign of the American public’s loss of faith in the public system itself. Still, though faith-based organizations are increasingly normalized in American culture, Hackworth argues that they are “much deeper and more complicated than any one party or religious tradition.”

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    random comment to Bwog staff: Can you guys consider removing the shadow on your headlines? I find it hard on the eyes.

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