New White House Faith-Based Council Shows Need for Continued Research

Feb. 4, 2009

Announcement Expected Thursday on Day of National Prayer Breakfast

Rigorous Study to Assess Efficacy Should be Emphasized, says Institute for Studies of Religion Co-Director

News reports today indicate the White House is expected to announce tomorrow the creation of its Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, part of its effort to overhaul the White House office of faith-based initiatives. The announcement will coincide with the date of the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend.

The move highlights the importance of and the need for continued research into the effectiveness of faith-based offices, says the co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.

Dr. Byron Johnson, professor of sociology, leads the institute, which is nationally known for the Baylor Religion Survey, a comprehensive biennial survey of religious beliefs among Americans conducted by the Gallup organization, as well as its numerous research initiatives on such areas as faith-based organizations, the economics of religion, religion and values in China and pro-social behavior.

The institute's scholars include Jay F. Hein, former director of President George Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives from 2006-2008, who was named Distinguished Senior Fellow and director of the institute's Program for Faith and Service in October 2008.

Mr. Obama reportedly has revamped the faith-based office to broaden its mandate beyond overseeing the distribution of grants to religious and community groups. This includes looking for other ways to involve those groups in addressing social problems - a move, Johnson says, is important to American society overall.

"President Obama has said on any number of occasions that community and faith-based organizations play very important roles in contributing to a healthy civil society and that he looks forward to seeing the reach of these organizations expand," Johnson says. "As the Obama Administration carries on the initial work launched over the last eight years under President Bush's leadership, we may truly come to understand the full impact of these community-serving groups."

A key component of the new office should be continued research, Johnson says. "I am hopeful that rigorous research to assess the efficacy of these faith and community-based organizations will be central to the plans of the new office. Good research is now beginning to confirm what is already obvious to many: America's armies of compassion, largely motivated out of their faith to serve the least among us, are beginning to have a demonstrable impact on some of society's most pressing and difficult-to-address problems. Research on how these programs have such an impact is necessary so that we can continue to replicate it."

Johnson adds that the impact of these groups is already being felt in rural and urban communities alike, and the Obama Administration is wise to acknowledge their contributions. "Local and state-level leaders have already figured this out. Most governors, for example, have now established offices dedicated to supporting the work of faith-based initiatives, regardless of which political party is in power."

About the Institute for Studies of Religion

Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion involves scholars with different interests and approaches in creative efforts to grasp the complexities and interconnections of religion in the life of individuals and societies. The focus is on combining the highest standards of scholarship with a serious commitment to faith, resulting in studies that not only plumb basic questions, but produce results that are relevant to religious organizations, address moral controversies, and contribute to social health.

About Baylor University

A private Christian university and a nationally ranked liberal arts institution, Baylor University is classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a research university with "high research activity." This blends with Baylor's international reputation for educational excellence built upon the faculty's commitment to teaching, scholarship and interdisciplinary research to produce outstanding graduates. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor University is the oldest, continually operating university in the state. Baylor's 735-acre campus in Waco, Texas, is home to more than 14,500 students from all 50 states and 70 countries. Baylor offers 147 undergraduate, 76 master and 25 doctoral degree programs, plus the juris doctor degree, through its 11 academic units.

CONTACT:
Dr. Byron Johnson, 254-710-7555
Jill Scoggins, office-254-710-1964 or cell-254-652-9765

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