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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: May 12, 2003
Volume 38, Number 20


This column highlights books authored by UNM employees. The feature runs semi-regularly in conjunction with campus events.

Among featured authors at the recent UNM Published Professors dinner was Richard L. Wood, sociology associate professor and principal investigator in the Institute for Social Research, who wrote, “Faith in Action, Religion, Race, and Democratic Organizing in America,” (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2002).

In the book, Wood describes the purpose and impact of faith-based organizations making social change.

During the last 15 years, various citizen groups have come together in the United States around issues of equality and social justice, frequently developed through local churches. Differing from President George W. Bush’s faith-based suggestion that groups deliver services to the needy, these groups are interested and active in changing public policy that neglects the underprivileged.

In “Faith in Action,” Wood compares two models for non-partisan political organizing by Hispanic, African American, and white residents of poor, working class, and middle class urban neighborhoods. One model is based on an appeal to ethnic identity, the other to religious commitment.

From both a political science and sociological perspective, Wood points out strengths and weaknesses of democracy in America. Low-income and minorities tend to lack political power, but by working together they can create politicized civic associations.

“Blacks, Latinos and working class white people come together, pooling their strengths and cultural resources through faith-based organizations,” said Wood.

The groups are very effective at making change within a neighborhood or locally, he said, but find difficulty in enacting national change. Individual groups, racially or economically based, tend to approach a particular shared experience. Faith-based groups are able to think about issues with a more universal appeal, he said.

Wood has spoken to funders at the Rockefeller, Kellogg and Ford Foundations and plans a trip to Los Altos, Calif., where he will speak to a group of 70 clergy and professional organizers.

Wood teaches courses on ethnographic research, political sociology, social movements, policing and the sociology of religion. In collaboration with Interfaith Funders, New York, he serves as research director for a study of the relationship between faith communities and religiously based political organizations. He also serves as the principal investigator in the APD-UNM Research Partnership studying the impact of community policing models on day-to-day relationships.