Who Will Provide? The Changing Role of Religion in American Social Welfare

By Mary Jo Bane; Brent Coffin et al. | Go to book overview

Foreword

David Little

Who Will Provide? is a collection of provocative and timely essays about the import of social welfare for the future of American democracy, a subject that has thrust itself into the center of American political discussion. These essays are aimed at striking the right balance between the government and religious and other nonprofit organizations in delivering public care and assistance to the poor and disadvantaged in American society. The book is the fruit of a series of discussions, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life, at the Harvard Divinity School, that took place over several years and involved members of the Harvard faculty from a wide variety of disciplines and fields of study.

The discussions were prompted by the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which, among other things, replaced a system of federal matching funds and entitlements to assistance with flexible block grants to states that require most welfare recipients to work and also limit federally funded welfare benefits to five years. To broaden the range of "charitable choice," the legislation also relaxed restrictions on funding faith-based organizations for purposes of providing social services and of helping administer the transition from "welfare to workfare."

In variously analyzing and evaluating the role of religious communities and other nonprofit groups in face of this new state of affairs, the interdisciplinary "multilogue" generated by the essays that make up Who Will Provide? illustrates richly the fundamental purpose for which the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life was established nearly a decade ago. The center was designed as a vital forum where faculty from across the university, as well as scholars and professional persons from near and far, could gather together in order to clarify and elevate topics of urgent public concern involving contested moral and religious values.

The authors included herein fulfill that mandate admirably. Among them are social scientists, moral theologians, scholars of the law and of public policy, several! of whom have supplemented their academic work with practical experience

-vii-

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