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An interview study of Habitat for Humanity® as a voluntary organization and as a social form of religion

Habitat for Humanity®

Building Private Homes, Building Public Religion

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Jerome P. Baggett

"Jerome Baggett has taken a searching look at Habitat for Humanity®. Along with striking success he has found significant problems arising from differences in social class between volunteers and homeowners, the impingement of the market, and the individualism of the volunteer culture. His book is a major contribution to the self-understanding of Habitat and of religious volunteer groups in America generally. Those interested in civil society and the public role of religion will find this book indispensable."
Robert N. Bellah, co-author of Habits of the Heart

Habitat for Humanity®, a grassroots house-building ministry founded in 1976 by evangelical Christians, is one of the best-known and most widely popular nonprofit organizations in operation today. With approximately 1500 local affiliates in the United States and more than 300 abroad in sixty-four countries, the organization has constructed more than 90,000 homes primarily by mobilizing concerned citizens, who include about 250,000 American volunteers each year.

The author tells the story of Habitat's development and the special fervor it evokes among volunteers and those for whom it builds houses. Through interviews with staff, he also provides a look into the organizational dynamics of Habitat, a non-profit whose religious mission for social change is inevitably affected by the instrumental, bottom-line orientation of the state and the market.

Baggett argues that Habitat is an example of a particular social form of religion, the paradenominational organization, that is uniquely adapted to the climate of the modern world. It is one of the vital forms that voluntarism takes today.

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Excerpt

Read Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

"This is an excellent book on Habitat for Humanity®—its vision, its appeal to volunteers, its construction of 'real religion.' Baggett brings to this analysis a theoretical grasp of the role of parachurch organizations, an appreciation for how building houses can take on religious and civic meaning for volunteers, and a sensitivity to the many Americans today looking for ways to become engaged in a hands-on, service-oriented activity. The book is both informative and a genuine pleasure to read."
Wade Clark Roof, J.F. Rowny Professor of Religion and Society, University of California at Santa Barbara

"Jerome Baggett's Habitat for Humanity® is an original and ground-breaking sociological study. In this first in-depth sociological investigation of Habitat for Humanity®, Baggett also provides keen insights into voluntarism and faith-based special purpose groups which engage in social service. He asks: How does faith embrace and challenge our common citizen ideals? For, as the subtitle of the book suggests, building public religion should also get linked to our public citizenship together."
John A. Coleman, S.J., Casassa Professor of Social Values, Loyola Marymount University, and author of Public Discipleship: Para-Church Groups and Citizenship

"In describing the history, accomplishments, and popularity of Habitat for Humanity®, Jerome Baggett has produced a significant contribution to our understanding of religion and volunteering in America. Compared with the downward trend that characterizes so many civic organizations, Habitat for Humanity® has been remarkably successful in attracting a growing number of participants. Baggett shows us some of the reasons why, especially the importance of social organization that is flexible, pragmatic, specialized, and rooted in broad nonsectarian religious values."
Robert Wuthnow, Princeton University, author of Loose Connections: Joining Together in America's Fragmented Communities

Read a review from American Journal of Sociology, by Matthew P. Lawson (pdf).

"In this engaging book, Jerome Baggett uses the case of Habitat for Humanity to shed empirical light on religion's relationship to civic participation.... I recommend this well written, engaging book to all with an interest in the sociology of the voluntary sector and parachurch organizations."
Sociology of Religion

Read a review from Social Thought: Journal of Religion in the Social Services, written by William J. Hutchison (pdf).

Read a review from Contemporary Sociology, Volume 31.1, written by Jerry Z. Park (pdf).

Read a review from Social Forces, Volume 80.2 (December 2001), written by Robin D.Perrin (pdf).

Read a review from The Journal of Community Practice, written by Phil Tom (pdf).

"...an excellent qualitative analysis of Habitat for Humanity and lessons this faith-based organization can teach other grassroots organizations."
Journal of the American Planning Association

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Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1. The Voluntary Sector and American Religion
2. The Founding Vision of Habitat for Humanity®
3. Habitat’s Organizational Structure and Growth
4. Citizenship and Its Class-Based Distortions
5. Citizenship and the Instrumental Logic of the Market
6. Habitat’s Construction of "Real Religion"
7. Religious Pluralism and Spiritual Selves within Habitat
8. Building Upon a Sturdy Foundation
Appendix A: Affiliate Covenant: A Basic Covenant between Habitat for Humanity® International and an Approved Habitat Affiliate Project
Appendix B: Steps to Affiliation
Appendix C: Habitat’s Local Affiliate Structure
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Index

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About the Author(s)

Jerome P. Baggett is Assistant Professor of Religion and Society at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.

Subject Categories

General Interest
Sociology

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