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"We need to be able to imagine ourselves not in a Third World and a First World but in one world in which our duties to the poor are shared."

Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga
Youth, Religious Belief and Social Justice    Minimize

SUMMARY

An investigation into the religious and non-religious factors associated with the engagement of youth in social justice activities.

SHORT DESCRIPTION

Researchers: Dr Joan Daw and Dr Bruce Duncan

Research objectives:

This research examines the social justice activities of youth, and the religious / non-religious factors associated with such engagement. A main question posed relates to the motivation behind youth engagement in social justice activities: to what extent is it motivated by basic human compassion, religious faith, or other factors? Further, what factors help to sustain social justice involvement; to what extent does religious faith help to sustain this type of engagement? To what extent is modelling important? The research will be useful to pastoral planners, youth workers, educators and all concerned about social justice.

Time Frame: The project was published by the Yarra Institute in 2013, and is available from our office for $20 plus $5 postage.

Funding Source: A grant from the Melbourne College of Divinity

SUMMARY

Sociological studies have indicated an association between religious commitment and involvement in social welfare / justice activities. Research focusing on youth (aged 13-24 years) also suggests an association between faith orientation and social concern and involvement. The research focused on youth engaged in social justice activities and the religious / non-religious factors associated with such engagement. A main question posed by the research relates to the motivation behind youth engagement in social justice activities: to what extent is it motivated by basic human compassion, religious faith, or some other factor or combination of factors? What factors help to sustain social justice involvement: For example, to what extent does religious faith help to sustain this type of engagement? To what extent is modelling important?

The project examined existing research and the role of organisations that encourage the engagement of youth in social justice activity. The research is applicable to all denominations, but the present project focused on Catholic youth, with reference made to youth of other denominations by way of comparison and contrast. This research will be useful to pastoral planners, youth workers, educators and all those concerned about social justice.

MORE DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Introduction

There is a growing body of American studies that indicate a link between religious involvement and social concern and volunteering (e.g. Putnam 2000; Becker & Dhingra 2001; Eckstein 2001). Australian studies are producing similar findings (e.g. Bellamy, Kaldor and the NCLS Team 2002; Daw 2004). In relation to young people in particular, a recent study of Australian youth by Mason, Singleton and Webber found that youth who were active Christians were more involved than other youth in charitable giving (2007: 283) and that active Christians and “New-Agers” (the majority of whom were raised as Christians) had higher levels of civic orientation and social concern than was the case for other youth (2007: 281; 295).

Such findings invite further investigation about the motivations behind youth engagement in specific types of activities such as those oriented towards social justice. To what extent do the motivations for youth participation in these activities reflect Christian beliefs and values and to what extent are they of a more loosely spiritual or humanistic nature? In the case of the latter, to what extent can they be traced to underlying religious values and to what extent do they appear to be entirely non-religious?

A related issue concerns how values are translated into action. According to Mason et al, “Having values that incline one to working for the common good does not automatically produce the necessary knowledge and skills or the opportunity to put the values into practice” (2007: 299). In line with this, research by Verba, Schlozman and Brady (1995) points to the opportunities for skills acquisition provided by religious involvement. This leads to consideration of the extent to which religious involvement may provide not only the values but also the models and skills that young people can draw upon in social justice engagement. In a situation where only a minority of young people are active Christians (Mason et al 2007), the question is raised as to what other types of institutional involvement (e.g. school involvement) may provide the type of modelling that can be relevant to social justice activity. The role of the family and community environment also needs to be considered here.

Another area of enquiry relates to social justice organisations and activities. How visible and accessible are these to young people? How is social justice activity modelled? Who are the models? This leads to consideration of the nature of youth involvement in social justice activity: for example, to what extent is this involvement expressed in short-term projects or long-term commitment? This raises questions about the factors that can sustain youth social justice involvement: to what extent do social justice organisations themselves provide the incentive and opportunities for young people to sustain involvement? How important are the values and modelling opportunities associated with religious involvement in sustaining involvement in social justice activity? How important are other factors in sustaining this involvement?

A further area investigated concerns the way young people approach their own individual effort and its relationship to institutional-level involvement in social justice activity. Recent research by Daw (2008) suggested that a certain type of worldview may be associated with attitudes that position individual effort and institutional activity as alternatives (or even mutually exclusive), whereas other types of worldview tend to be associated with attitudes that position individual and institutional levels of social engagement as complementary. (Some studies suggest that denominational factors may play a part in this). An examination of the way young people appear to approach the individual-institution relationship may provide additional insights into their involvement not only in social justice activities but also institutional-level religious activities.

Insofar as the patterns of social concern and involvement laid down in the period of youth may influence those of later stages of life, the research has implications for future planning in many areas.

Research Design and Details

The research consisted of an examination of relevant existing studies and materials and consultations with (Australian) Catholic-based social justice organisations and schools that encourage social justice involvement.
  1. Review of existing national and international studies of youth engagement in social justice activities.
  2. Examination of social justice organisations and agencies with specific focus on Catholic-based organisations that allow for the involvement of young people. Meetings with representatives of these organisations formed part of this examination.
  3. Examination of Catholic school involvement in social justice activities and links to social justice organisations,  including meetings with representatives of some school.

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