Rabbi Renni S. Altman
Congregational affiliation is a matter of interest to both the academic and religious communities. Yet the two hold fundamentally different perspectives on the matter, and they rarely articulate their views in mutually intelligible ways. Religious leaders may (or may not) use the findings of academic studies to guide their decisions about which populations to target in an outreach effort or which programs to create. Likewise, academics might (or might not) turn to local religious institutions or congregations as models for their research or as testing grounds for their theories. Collaborative inquiry involving clergy, lay leaders, and scholars is rare.
The Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), with a grant from the Lilly Endowment, recently embarked on a joint project--an unusual effort of an academic and a religious institution collaborating on a topic of shared concern. The project was initially conceived of as a study of methodological issues in affiliation research. Our plan was to begin with an in-depth survey of congregational membership studies (using Reform synagogues in North America as our sample) and then hold a conference at which researchers would present scholarly papers on their most recent work in the study of congregational affiliation. Underlying these activities was the goal of building a working relationship between the university and the religious movement and establishing modes of communication to bridge the academic and religious worlds.
The initial stage of the project confirmed our sense that there was an unbridged gap between academic and congregational approaches to affili-