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Government Activity and Civil Privatism: Evidence from Voluntary Church Membership

Robert Wuthnow and Clifford Nass
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 27, No. 2 (Jun., 1988), pp. 157-174
DOI: 10.2307/1386713
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386713
Page Count: 18
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Government Activity and Civil Privatism: Evidence from Voluntary Church Membership
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Abstract

The much-considered question of civil privatism in modern society has been discussed mostly in theoretical and normative terms. We identify one strand of this broader discussion that can be tested empirically. We consider declining participation in voluntary organizations, such as churches, as a manifestation of civil privatism, which has been alleged to increase as a result of the expanding functions of the bureaucratic welfare state. We also present counter-arguments that question whether there is a tendency for large state governments to promote civil privatism of this kind. We then test these opposing arguments with national data on voluntary membership in more than 200,000 local religious organizations collected in 1952 and again in 1981. The analysis, conducted at the state level, demonstrates a significant effect on membership of total government expenditure, controlling for urbanization, migration, and several other variables. We discuss the implications of these findings for the literature on state expansion and civil privatism.

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