Congregations and Public Life

Following Alexis de Tocqueville’s insights, we believe that religious congregations are among “the first institutions of democracy in America.”

How can faith communities serve to buttress the best democratic instincts, skills, and “habits of the heart” that have carried American society forward for two hundred years? Why, instead, do faith communities sometimes seem to promote instincts and orientations that undermine democratic and egalitarian visions of America’s future?

Congregations and Public Life is a major national study of the impact of democratic engagement on Latino, African-American, Anglo, and immigrant congregations in low and middle-income settings in thirteen cities. Through interviews, surveys, and participant-observation in 44 mainline Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, historic Black Protestant, Jewish, Pentecostal, Unitarian-Universalist, Muslim, and Unity congregations, we examined the dynamics through which faith-based community organizing contributes to strengthening congregations (or fails to do so).

This project was done in collaboration with Interfaith Funders of New York, and funded by the Ford Foundation. Initial publications available at; book manuscript titled Faith and the Fire of Public Life under development by Richard L. Wood.

Funded by: