Misunderstanding Faith: When ‘Capital’ does not fit the ‘Spiritual’

By Francesca Eva Sara Montemaggi.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the past decade, UK government policy and academic research have inserted faith based organisations (FBOs) within the discourse of community cohesion and regeneration. This has been articulated primarily within a social capital framework which understands FBOs as ‘repositories’ of resources to tap into (Home Office 2004). The present paper outlines a critique of social capital as framework for the understanding of FBOs, and of the emerging concept of spiritual capital as the ‘social capital of faith organisations’ (Stark and Finke 2000). The paper will also sketch an alternative theoretical framework inspired by the work of Georg Simmel on religion. Robert Putnam’s version of social capital has been spectacularly successful; yet it has been shown to be utopian and fraught with inconsistencies. This paper argues that social capital has become a highly moralised notion and, as such, it cannot be applied productively. Further, I shall maintain that the economic analogy, made by the terminology of capital, is particularly ill-suited to faith organisations, and that the resulting concept of ‘spiritual capital’ leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of what is distinctive of faith. Drawing on Georg Simmel’s sociology of religion, the paper will provide an initial sketch of an alternative conceptualisation of faith for a deeper understanding of individual religiosity and the relationship between the individual and the community. Simmel’s insights on the relational nature of religiosity shed light onto the distinctiveness of religiosity offering better grounding for researching faith communities.

Keywords: Social Capital, Spiritual Capital, Religion, Community, Individual, Georg Simmel, Psychology

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp.179-192. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 668.761KB).

Francesca Eva Sara Montemaggi

PhD Researcher, School of City and Planning, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK

Born and raised in northern Italy, Francesca Montemaggi moved to the UK to study law at the University of Kent at Canterbury. She has an MSc in Nationalism Studies from the University of Edinburgh and has extensive experience in politics and public affairs. She has worked for elected representatives in the UK and Europe, analysed and developed policy in the third sector. She is currently a local government councillor and a PhD researcher at Cardiff University. Her research focuses on the construction of community and individual religious identity within faith-based organisations.


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