Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Religiosity, Citizenship and Attitudes to Social Policy Issues

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Religiosity, Citizenship and Attitudes to Social Policy Issues

Article excerpt

Introduction

There has always been a close affinity between religious belief and social goals. Whether it is the emphasis given to the importance of compassion for the poor in traditional Western Christian teaching or the role of Confucian philosophical values in shaping the role of the family under the different forms of welfare orientalism, these influences have been profound. The impact of religion has been reinforced in a country like Australia, where religious organisations have long played a major role in the provision and delivery of welfare services across the life cycle, from schooling and health care to aged care. This role has been increasing under a contracting-out agenda that has extended the long-established service delivery role of religious organisations into new areas, including employment and disability services. This trend, in part, reflects the view that these organisations are run economically and have an institutional ethos of care and compassion that makes them better providers of social services in an era characterised by the twin imperatives of economic efficiency and personal responsibility.

Despite the strong links between religious beliefs and social policy goals, the relationship between them remains relatively under-researched. A recent review of the role of religion in the development of social policy concluded that its role 'has not always been understood properly or appreciated particularly well' (van Kersbergen & Manow 2010: 265). Much of the existing work on the topic has been narrowly focused on the experience of Western countries, yet the changing relationship between religion and social policy in all countries makes the topic of growing global significance. Van Kersbergen and Manow argue that religion can impact on social policy through three main channels; first, religious values (such as the Protestant work ethic or the 19th century papal encyclicals) provide a framework that can have a profound impact on the assumptions and objectives t-hat shape social policy; second, religious movements can exert pressure by advocating in support of specific issues and/or groups through the political process; third, religious organisations can influence (and be influenced by) policy outcomes in their role as service delivery agents. The balance between these three roles will influence how religious organisations are structured, shape their relationships with the state, and affect how religious individuals engage with social policy issues and debates.

The traditional alignment of religious values with the underlying goals of the welfare state has been matched by a closer relationship between church and state in the ways in which welfare benefits (broadly defined) are delivered. The positive impacts of this relationship are assumed to work both ways: the state is freed from responsibility for the minutiae of service provision as a result of contracting out, while religious organisations become more economically powerful and socially and politically influential. There are many facets of these changes that warrant detailed examination from the perspective of their impact on social policy, but this paper focuses on the degree to which the attitudes held by those who describe themselves as religious are consistent with welfare state goals, programmes and policies. (1) It examines the extent to which some of the conclusions drawn recently by Putnam and Campbell (2010) for the United States apply to Australia, focusing specifically on whether it is the case that when religiosity is identified and defined on the basis of practice as opposed to belief, those who are identified as being religious are 'better citizens' in relation to the kinds of attitudes and behaviours that suggest an affinity with the principles of the welfare state.

There is, of course, no reason why having a more compassionate attitude towards those who are less economically fortunate should be associated with a higher level of support for state interventions designed to improve their circumstances. …

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