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«Jill Witmer Sinha Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey Itay Greenspan and Femida Handy University of Pennsylvania jilsinha ...»

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Jill Witmer Sinha

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Itay Greenspan and

Femida Handy

University of Pennsylvania


December 2010

Journal of Civil Society, in press Acknowledgements: This study was financially supported by a University Research Foundation grant from the University of Pennsylvania. The authors thank Gordon Zhu and Charlene C. McGrew for their invaluable support in data collection. Thank you also to the pastors and congregants who opened their houses of worship for us.

Executive Summary This paper explores the relationship between voluntary activities of first generation immigrants within the ethnic congregations which they attend and participation in other civic activities which occur outside of a congregation. We distinguish between attendance and volunteering within and outside of the congregation. An underlying question we wished to explore was whether membership and attendance in an ethnic congregation, which is assumed to promote bonding social capital, appeared to be related to more or less bridging social capital, as conceptualized by voluntary activities outside of the congregation and other civic participation in the wider community.

Countries whose residents exhibit high civic participation are also more democratic in their processes and outcomes, and this participation correlates with high levels of volunteerism (Okun & Michel, 2006; Putnam, 2000; Verba, Scholzman & Brady, 1995).

Volunteering has been identified as a central measure of social capital and civic participation, and hence of a democratic and healthy community (Putnam, 2000). Social capital theory suggests that voluntary participation in associations and activities enables interactions across diverse cross-sections of a population and facilitates “generalized trust” or mutual trust, particularly among peoples who do not know one another or are dissimilar (Berger, Galonska & Koopmans, 2004; Marschall & Stolle, 2004).

To address this question, survey data from 496 first generation immigrants who attended 23 ethnic congregations was analyzed using a composite variable of civic participation outside the congregation. Our analysis (the model accounted for 13 percent of the variance) suggests that voluntary activity within the congregation is significantly related to civic participation, and that volunteer activities, as opposed to attendance, are associated with civic participation. We did not find significant influence of gender, ethnic origin, proficiency with English, education level, presence of children under age 18 in the household. Age and length of residency in the US were found to be a significant. Our finding supports the observation that the longer an immigrant is in the host country, the more likely he or she is to adopt the culture of volunteering Further, our sample was relatively young (mean age of 43 and 37 per cent under age 34) and suggests that while in the general population, in which young adults attend a congregation less frequently than older adults, this may not be the case for firstgeneration immigrants given the higher rates of attendance and the special role of the congregation as a social and recreational hub (Handy & Greenspan, 2009; Ammerman, 1997). Younger immigrants may also find it easier to engage in cross-cultural activities.

We highlight several implications for voluntary activity as a factor in facilitating civic participation and integration among first generation immigrant members of ethnic congregations. In urban America, congregations provide an accessible environment which is rich in opportunities to build bonding social capital for recent immigrants. Nationally representative survey data indicate that people trust other people in their place of worship more than they trust co-workers, neighbours, and people of their own race (Saguaro Seminar, 2001). The assumption of similar values may be less prevalent in other voluntary associations, such as a sports team or mommy‟s group, which form independently of a religious context, and cannot be assumed to share certain values which promote trust, even in ethnically-homogenous groups. The assumption of shared values in the religious context may speed up the formation of generalized trust and bonding social capital. Congregations also provide frequent opportunities for volunteering both within and outside of the congregation, as noted by Verba et al. (1995) and Sikkink and Hernadez (2003). In addition to multiple opportunities to volunteer within the congregation, there are often “entre” opportunities to organisations or community activities with which the congregation or a few members of the congregation have a prior relationship.

The study‟s primary limitation is that the data collected was not designed to control for individual level factors which might promote one individuals‟ volunteering and civic participation as an aspect of a “joiner‟s” or engaged personality. That is, some people naturally would volunteer whether or not they were a member of a same ethnic congregation. Conversely, we cannot gauge how much participation in a congregation might encourage and provide opportunities for increased civic engagement.

Among immigrants, membership and attendance at ethnic congregations do not diminish civic participation. Second generation or long-term resident immigrants may be less prone to seek out an ethnic context for worship and bonding socialization, but for firstgeneration immigrants, membership in an ethnic congregation and volunteering appear to support other bridging engagement and patterns of activity, as well as bonding social capital.

Introduction One common assumption which prompted this study is that „healthier‟ communities – those which are more democratic in their processes and outcomes – are also those in which civic participation is high, and that this participation is correlated with, or influenced by, high levels of volunteerism (Omoto & Snyder, 2002; Putnam, 2000; Verba, Scholzman & Brady, 1995).

Volunteering has been identified as a central measure of social capital and civic participation (Putnam, 2000). Social capital theory suggests that voluntary participation in associations enables interactions across diverse cross-sections of a population and facilitates “generalized trust” or mutual trust (Berger, Galonska & Koopmans, 2004; Marschall & Stolle, 2004). Generalized trust, as opposed to particularized trust, allows people to build, and become embedded in, networks of social support and solidarity, even among people who do not know one another or are dissimilar (Musick & Wilson, 2008). It is also associated with desirable community-level factors such as academic achievement, lower crime rates (Halpern, 2005), increased flow of information (Putnam, 1993), physical health, neighbourhood safety, as well as effective schools, public service, and government (Putnam, 1993; Sander & Lowney, 2005).

Given the links of civic participation, and in particular volunteering, to healthier communities, in this paper, we wish to advance the discussion on the dynamics of civic participation among first generation immigrants to the United States who attend ethnic congregations. We address a basic debate in the literature: whether within-group activism acts as a conduit to broader civic participation, or whether, through the creation of inward looking group cohesion, such within-group bonding activities can actually close its members from civic interaction with the broader society. The concept of bonding social capital, which is commonly used in this debate to describe the tendency to bond within the group, is contrasted with bridging social capital that is acquired through activities across different groups (Putnam, 2000).

Immigrant ethnic congregations in the United States are an interesting venue within which to examine bonding and bridging capital because they are a unique subset of voluntary associations where religious, ethnic, and migration considerations intersect. On the one hand, such congregations offer a homogenous, attractive, and easily accessible venue for newcomers to withdraw from the challenges of immigration and assimilation, while bonding with a culturally similar community. On the other hand, building trust and confidence with similar others is believed to result in higher involvement both within the congregation and in the wider community. As such, the immigrant ethnic congregation is a peculiar setting which merits a separate discussion about questions of volunteering and civic participation; generalized versus particularized trust (Uslaner & Conley, 2003); and bridging and bonding capital (Putnam, 2000).

Furthermore, the study of ethnic congregations in the US context is significant for three other reasons: the distinctive nature of associational life in the US (Skocpol, 1996; Skocpol & Fiorina, 1999), the high levels of religiosity (Van Tubergen, 2006), and its large diversity of immigrant communities, many of whom have relatively homogenous communities for worship (Ebaugh & Chafetz, 2000b). This proclivity for religious congregations and voluntary associations are notable distinctions compared to Europe and makes our research venue of interest to scholars in the field.

While congregation attendance has been noted as a predictor of civic participation (Verba, Scholzman, Brady & Nie, 1993; Wuthnow, 1999), our key argument is that this construct is insufficient, or inadequate, in explaining the association between religious participation and civic participation of immigrant members. We suggest, instead, differentiating between congregation attendance and volunteering within the congregation, because attendance is a passive form of participation while volunteering requires active participation, which we believe can better predict civic participation in the wider community. Within this framework, we ask whether the type of volunteering activity and the number of volunteer tasks that are performed within the ethnic congregation, as opposed to mere attendance, is related to civic participation in the wider community, and/or to volunteering outside the congregation. In other words, among first-generation immigrant congregation members, does attendance, volunteering, or both, inhibit or facilitate civic participation and bridging social capital?

Our paper starts with a review of relevant literature on volunteering, social capital, ethnic congregation membership, and civic participation in the US as it pertains to immigrants and non-immigrants. This is followed by hypotheses, the research methods, findings, and a discussion of the findings.

We conclude with observations on congregation participation and volunteering as factors in facilitating civic participation and social integration among first generation immigrants.

Review of Literature The review covers literature on ethnic, primarily immigrant, congregations in the US, attendance and volunteering among the general population, and the relation of volunteering to civic participation.

Role of ethnic congregations Previous studies have pointed to various reasons that make congregations in general and ethnic congregations in particular, a unique subset of voluntary associations in the US. First, there is a preponderance of religious congregations in the US and these congregations are the most prevalent source of voluntary membership among all civic associations (Verba, Scholzman & Brady, 1995). Studies of Los Angeles and Philadelphia, for example, show the ubiquitous nature of congregations on the US urban landscape; they are more populous than stores selling gasoline, food, and liquor in these geographical settings (Cnaan, Wineburg, & Boddie, 1999; Orr, 1998). Second, congregations are distinguished as a special subset of voluntary associations whose legitimacy is derived from the moral authority of its leadership, and whose purpose are more limited or proscribed than other, secular voluntary associations (Harris, 1998). Third, the prevalence of ethnic congregations facilitates easy access for new immigrants. Ethnic congregations play a dual role for immigrants: a place of worship and a safe place for social interaction where new immigrants may form relationships and join social networks as they navigate a new culture in their host country.

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