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Religion, Communication, and Social Capital
Unformatted Document Text:  Religion, Communication, and Social Capital --5-- American politics. If all politics is local, religious institutions parallel the local access points to political power (Leege, 1993), with churches characterized as translocal networks that connect citizens to politics across the nation (De Tocqueville, 1884/1969). Indeed, churches have long been described as political institutions that ostensibly provide sources of political information, opportunities, and incentives that can sponsor social capital (Greenburg, 2000). Some scholars claim that religious institutions, through their associational influences on their members, have the potential to increase political engagement (Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995), and foster social capital (Putnam, 2000). On the first count, Verba et al. (1995) find that religious institutions effectively promote among their members the essential components of political engagement including motivation, recruitment, and ability. Putnam (2000), similarly, proposes that religious institutions can serve as “networks of civic engagement,” promoting among their members an interest in the collective good, and serving as important challengers to authority, as was the case when Black churches and their leaders spearheaded the civil rights movement. The prevailing optimism surrounding religion’s ability to promote social capital, however, overlooks several key caveats. While Verba et al. (1995) and Putnam (2000) emphasize the general importance of networks of recruitment and associational membership in sponsoring civic engagement, they also acknowledge (though do not test) the likelihood that not all networks of recruitment or associations may be equal in their effects. For instance, McLeod et al. (1999) find that belonging to more heterogenous networks promotes certain forms of political activity. Stolle and Rochon (1998) find this to be a key distinction in Sweden: associations with higher levels of diversity among their members were more conducive towards building generalized trust, whereas homogenous and hierarchical associations were less likely to inculcate trust

Authors: Nisbet, Matthew., Moy, Patricia. and Scheufele, Dietram.
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Religion, Communication, and Social Capital
--5--
American politics. If all politics is local, religious institutions parallel the local access points to
political power (Leege, 1993), with churches characterized as translocal networks that connect
citizens to politics across the nation (De Tocqueville, 1884/1969). Indeed, churches have long
been described as political institutions that ostensibly provide sources of political information,
opportunities, and incentives that can sponsor social capital (Greenburg, 2000).
Some scholars claim that religious institutions, through their associational influences on
their members, have the potential to increase political engagement (Verba, Schlozman, & Brady,
1995), and foster social capital (Putnam, 2000). On the first count, Verba et al. (1995) find that
religious institutions effectively promote among their members the essential components of
political engagement including motivation, recruitment, and ability. Putnam (2000), similarly,
proposes that religious institutions can serve as “networks of civic engagement,” promoting
among their members an interest in the collective good, and serving as important challengers to
authority, as was the case when Black churches and their leaders spearheaded the civil rights
movement.
The prevailing optimism surrounding religion’s ability to promote social capital,
however, overlooks several key caveats. While Verba et al. (1995) and Putnam (2000) emphasize
the general importance of networks of recruitment and associational membership in sponsoring
civic engagement, they also acknowledge (though do not test) the likelihood that not all networks
of recruitment or associations may be equal in their effects. For instance, McLeod et al. (1999)
find that belonging to more heterogenous networks promotes certain forms of political activity.
Stolle and Rochon (1998) find this to be a key distinction in Sweden: associations with higher
levels of diversity among their members were more conducive towards building generalized
trust, whereas homogenous and hierarchical associations were less likely to inculcate trust


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