UA Sociologist to Survey Nation's Congregations

Lori Harwood
Nov. 16, 2005

Much attention is paid these days to the role of religion, especially local religious congregations (churches, synagogues, mosques) in American communities. How much social services do congregations perform? How involved are they in politics? What is the nature of their involvement in other community activities?

Mark Chaves, professor and head of the sociology department at The University of Arizona, has received more than $1 million in funding to ask these and other questions in the second wave of the National Congregations Study. The funding, a significant amount for a single project in sociology, comes from three sources: the Lilly Endowment ($850,000), the National Science Foundation ($104,963) and, most recently, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation ($100,000).

Chaves conducted the original National Congregations Study (NCS) in 1998, in what was the first academically rigorous national survey of religious congregations. The first NCS answered many questions about religious congregations' contributions to their communities.

In particular, Chaves found that the community arena to which congregations are most important is not social services or politics - although they are active in each of those - but culture and the arts.

The new project will enable Chaves and his colleagues to gather new data on more than 1,200 congregations from across the religious spectrum on a wide variety of their activities. They also will collect new data from a subset of the congregations from the first study to see how those congregations have changed since 1998.

"The NCS-II will address many important questions about how congregations have changed, or stayed the same, since 1998. Have they become more involved in social service activity? Has their political involvement increased in recent years? How do they respond to neighborhood change? These are just some of the questions this research will address," Chaves said.

Chaves, who has a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate in sociology from Harvard University, has written a number of articles about religion in the United States. His books include "Congregations in America" (Harvard University Press, 2004) and "Ordaining Women: Culture and Conflict Religious Organizations" (Harvard University Press, 1997).

Editors Note: As part of the Faculty Fellow Speaker Series at the UA, Chaves will speak on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at noon in the UA Student Union, Gallagher Theatre. His talk, "Why Megachurches?" will address the question of why very large Protestant churches, drawing thousands of people to services held in huge buildings sited on large tracts of land, are a prominent feature of the American religious landscape.

For more information, contact Mark Chaves, 520-626-2560,


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Mark Chaves
UA sociology dept.