Interfaith Community Organizing Emerging Theological and Organizational Challenges

in International Journal of Public Theology
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Interfaith work in the United States takes diverse forms: from grass-roots collaboration on projects such as feeding the homeless, to locally-sponsored interfaith dialogues, collaborations sponsored by national denominational bodies and shared work on federal ‘faith-based initiatives’. This article profiles the characteristics and dynamics of a particular type of interfaith work, done under the rubric of ‘broad-based’, ‘faith-based’ or ‘congregation-based’ community organizing. For reasons detailed below, we term this form of interfaith and religious-secular collaboration ‘institution-based community organizing’. By drawing on results from a national survey of all local institution-based community organizations active in the United States in 2011, this article documents the significance of the field, its broadly interfaith profile, how it incorporates religious practices into organizing, and the opportunities and challenges that religious diversity presents to its practitioners and to North American society.1

Interfaith Community Organizing Emerging Theological and Organizational Challenges

in International Journal of Public Theology




See Heidi SwartsOrganizing Urban America: Secular and Faith-Based Progressive Movements (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press2008) and Mark Warren Dry Bones Rattling (Prince-ton: Princeton University Press 2001) for fuller history of institution-based community organizing. Note that the institution-based model is one among a variety of approaches to community organizing that emerge from overlapping roots for more information see <>.


See Richard L. Wood and Mark R. Warren‘A Different Face of Faith-Based Politics: Social Capital and Community Organizing in the Public Arena’International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy22: 9/10 (2002) 6–54; Stephen Hart Cultural Dilemmas of Progressive Politics: Styles of Engagement among Grassroots Activists (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2001); Michael Gecan After America’s Midlife Crisis (Boston: MIT Press 2009); Paul Osterman Gathering Power: The Future of Progressive Politics in America (Boston: Beacon Press 2003) and Robert D. Putnam David E. Campbell and Shaylyn Romney Garrett American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster 2010). On its ability to project power at the state and national levels see Richard L. Wood ‘Higher Power: Strategic Capacity for State and National Organizing’ in Marion Orr ed. Transforming the City: Community Organizing and the Challenge of Political Change (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press 2007) pp. 164–92 and Richard L. Wood Brad Fulton and Kathryn Partridge Building Bridges Building Power: Developments in Institution-Based Community Organizing (Denver: Interfaith Funders 2012).


See also Luke BrethertonChristianity and Contemporary Politics (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell2010) and Resurrecting Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press forthcoming). From a mainline Protestant theology of organizing see Dennis A. Jacobsen Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2001).


See Craig Calhoun ed.Habermas and the Public Sphere (Durham: University of North Carolina Press1992).


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