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Volunteering, Religion and Social Capital

From 7 to 9 December 2011 - UCSIA organises the workshop "Volunteering, religion and social capital". This programme wants to investigate how the concept of volunteerism in faith-based organisations and congregational groups changed overtime and what motivates people today to become a volunteer; taking into account such trends as individualism, professionalization, secularisation, old and new types of solidarity, divers communities.


Traditional voluntary work, religiously inspired volunteering, and volunteering in faith-based organisations and congregational groups seem to be in decline in Western Europe. Societal processes like individualism, professionalization, secularism, old and new types of solidarity and diverse communities are at the root of these changes. At the other hand, levels of social engagement remain high and a shift towards new types and institutional forms of solidarity can be detected.
Old types of solidarity (‘mechanic solidarity’ in Durkheim’s wording) are based on the ties that individuals have with their communities, parishes, family and neighbours. When there is a high degree of homogeneity within these groups, people are more prone to mutual help within informal networks and so strengthen social cohesion within those communities. Increasing individualisation processes have led people to experience those close and local ties as suffocating: they want to live their own lives and careers. Additionally, professionalization has transformed traditional voluntary social work into a paid occupation for which one needs certain qualifications and knowledge. 
In a context in which the role of local communities and parishes disappears and informal voluntary work looses its function and authority, a bottom-up approach of solidarity is gradually replaced by a top down approach. Social institutions and governmental bodies have to guide voluntary social work and the main role of social and educational institutions, companies and governmental bodies becomes blurred in its own way. Though both types of solidarity coexist within these institutions, the first type, the traditional form of solidarity seems to loose weight and is more and more substituted by a top-down institutionalized form of solidarity within society. 
With secularization and increasing diversity, traditional solidarity and mutual help are undermined in yet other ways. Religious authorities no longer are in a position to impose their prescriptions on moral issues and social behaviour; and this adds up with the afore-mentioned individualisation in explaining why ‘doing good for others’ is no longer considered (accepted) as an unconditional virtue. Everyone is responsible to develop and safeguard their life and prosperity, and being a volunteer should fit in this personal career path. The growing heterogeneity of society has hastened this process through the fact that people no longer share birth place, history, value sets and cultures. Indeed social and spatial proximity always have acted as safeguards for solidarity. People with less opportunities can still count on the institutional solidarity created by the welfare state, but in public opinion they are often described (perceived) as profiteers. Thus finding volunteers to continue the necessary – mostly historical rooted – voluntary work in faith-based organisations and congregations is difficult. Mission statements and organisational cultures of these associations may not always correlate with individual motivations and career opportunities of potential volunteers or with the value sets and concepts of ‘volunteering’ within the envisaged groups.

Call for papers

The UCSIA worskhop welcomes researchers, doctoral students and other experts to share scholarly ideas, practices and ideas on Volunteering, religion and social capital. Such a conference may open up a new horizon for academics, students and policy makers to think about the topic. Presentations can summarize empirical research outcomes, but also historical, conceptual, methodological  related contributions are welcomed for submission.

Your paper proposal should discuss one of the following subtopics:

  1. Cultural and historical roots of volunteers/volunteering: Are there different paradigms (definitions) of volunteering? Is ‘our’ definition of ‘volunteering’ universal or is it a cultural, historic specific concept? Is it nowadays more appropriate to speak about voluntary commitment instead of volunteering? Do other cultures use different notions to conceptualize volunteering? Do mechanisms such as informal networks, moral, religious, community or family duty better describe the social commitment of different cultural and religious groups? 
  2. Resources of motivation and opportunities to become a volunteer: What are the motivations to volunteer (fun, network, internship, duty, faith, social status)? How should faith-based organisations and congregational groups handle the mixed - secular and religious - inspiration of their volunteers? How should organisations and volunteers go about existing tensions between different motivational structures (altruistic vs. economic/pragmatic motivation)? 
  3. Employees and professionalization of voluntary work: How does the tension between employees and volunteers relate to the development of mixed welfare systems and changing state policies? What is the effect on paid and voluntary labour when more free market procedures are being introduced (EU regulations) and when volunteering is used to activate long-term unemployed people? What is the optimal mix of professional workers and volunteers within organisations? Can faith-based organisations and congregational groups work without the contribution of volunteers? 
  4. Bridging and bonding social capital, (religious) volunteering and society: Do diverse societies show less solidarity? Is religious capital different from social capital and political capital? How important are volunteers to strengthen social capital within society? How can we involve ever more diverse groups of citizens in voluntary work?

Application procedure

Candidates should submit their abstract (min. 500 words – max. 1000 words) together with an up-to-date curriculum vitae (biography and bibliography) before Monday 15th August 2011 using the online submission form at www.ucsia.org
Submissions are subject to a blind refereeing process. The reviewing process will evaluate these extended abstracts. The selection of participants will be communicated by mid-September 2011.

The selected participant will present her/his paper in a panel session (20 minutes in English) and will afterwards send in an article to be considered for publication (which will be submitted to careful selection). The aim of the organizer is to publish a selection of articles presented at the workshop.
The conference language is English. 
The organizer takes on charge costs pertaining to conference participation and stay in Antwerp of selected participants, while travel arrangements and costs are incumbent on participants themselves


University Centre Saint-Ignatius Antwerp

The University Centre Saint-Ignatius Antwerp (UCSIA) is an offspring of the former Jesuit institution of UFSIA. It is an independent non-profit organization founded by the Jesuit Order and members of the former UFSIA with the aim of continuing the Jesuit tradition of...


Volunteering, religion and social capital

From 7 to 9 December 2011 - UCSIA organises the workshop "Volunteering, religion and social capital". This programme wants to investigate how the concept of volunteerism in faith-based organisations and congregational groups changed overtime and what motivates people today to become a...

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