Program on Religion and Public Life

Religion, Politics and Public Life Faculty Seminar Series

Co-convened by Professors J. Bryan Hehir and Mary Jo Bane, this faculty seminar series aimed to convene a set of conversations across disciplines, within a faculty community, to begin to flesh out better the public policy, legal, constitutional and sociological ramifications of religion in civic and political life, both nationally and internationally. This was envisioned to be a 2-step process: (1) conduct a series of seminars and build an intellectual community interested in the comparative analyses and study of transnational trends on the role that religion plays in public life in countries around the world and in the US; and (2) crystallize and distill the collective understanding of issues in this field from a cross-disciplinary perspective and commission authors to write papers on pressing and under-conceptualized topics of interest in this subject area.

This project aimed not only to create a valuable process but also to publish a final product in the form of a collected volume of essays. To this end, eight seminars were conducted in academic year 2005-06, and an additional four more in academic year 2007. Further, J. Bryan Hehir continued to conduct faculty seminars in AY 2008, in collaboration with Professor Monica Toft, as part of the Initiative on Religion in International Affairs.

Joint Catholic Church Civic Asset Mapping Project

A joint initiative with the University of Pennsylvania's Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society titled "Joint Catholic Church Civic Asset Mapping Project (J-C3 AMP)" aimed to explore the Catholic Church in America as a window on the country's vast and varied, large and growing nonprofit sector. Religious institutions are the largest sub-sector of the nation's nonprofit sector and the Catholic Church is the nation's largest single religious institution. How, how well and with what effects, Catholic institutions deploy their human, financial and physical plant assets has an enormous bearing on how, and how well, the nation's nonprofit sector as a whole meets civic needs and creates public value. The project initially focused on Philadelphia and Boston, attempting to map the Catholic Church's civic assets.

Executive Session on Faith-based and Community Approaches to Urban Revitalization

Launched in 2002 at HKS with generous support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, this Executive Session partnered with the Faith and Service Technical Education Network (FASTEN) initiative to contribute to the latter’s efforts to equip mayors and public administrators for effective collaboration with local faith communities and funders. HKS faculty Stephen Goldsmith, Mary Jo Bane and Mark Moore were the principal co-conveners of the Executive Session, working closely with a planning team comprised of Brent Coffin, Xavier de Souza Briggs, Ronald Thiemann, Christopher Winship and Anne Mathew.

The Executive Session constituted a cumulative dialogue and set of activities over a two-year period, among a group of 30+ innovative mayors, faith-based and civic practitioner leaders and academics from across the country.

Participants explored the central question: when and how do cross-sector partnerships (i.e. collaborations among government, civic and faith-based organizations) generate better solutions to community problems? These explorations came together around policy-based and leadership-based discussions and Harvard scholars identified, researched and documented several innovative practices as case studies and papers. Some papers targeted specific policy areas, such as mentoring, affordable housing, youth violence and race relations while others identified typologies and strategic dilemmas in developing and sustaining cross-sector collaborations from both a mayoral and a faith perspective.

Several teaching notes, case commentaries, module notes and leadership papers were written by the planning team. Drawing on these educational resources, the Program developed two companion on-line curriculum modules on cross-sector collaboration involving public agencies and religious institutions: City Hall and Religion: An Online Curriculum for Public Managers– aimed at public sector managers, particularly urban mayors; and the Public Religious Leadership module for educators of religious leaders.

Unlocking Doors Project

In 2005, the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (HUD CFBCI) at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development established the “Unlocking Doors” initiative to highlight and promote successful local strategies for faith-based and community organizations (FBCOs) to develop affordable housing plans and increase home ownership in cities across the United States.

Harvard’s role in this larger project was to work with the mayoral offices in seven HUD-selected cities in order to identify the methods and practices that make a city successful in its community housing efforts, and to develop, produce and disseminate materials for best practice publications, useable strategies for mayors, and lessons learned in developing affordable housing through partnerships between FBCOs, government and the private sector. The Hauser Center and the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance & Innovation, under the direction of Professor Stephen Goldsmith worked with Performance Results, Inc(PRI) and HUD to deliver several activities and products to advance the HUD initiative's overall aims.

Taking Faith Seriously

Edited By: Mary Jo Bane, Brent Coffin, and Richard Higgins
Harvard University Press
March 2005

Taking Faith Seriously examines the complex ways in which religion and American democracy are interwoven, and suggests a new way of evaluating religion in public life based on the social roles it performs. It probes the potential, as well as the risks, for more constructive engagement between these sectors.

The book offers nine case studies that describes the multiple and subtle roles that religion plays on many levels in our civic life. Taking Faith Seriously is the culminating product of the Hauser Center’s Intellectual Foundations-2 (IF-2) project on The Social Role of Faith-Based Organizations.