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Faith-Based Decisions? The Consequences of Heightened Religious Salience in Social Service Referral Decisions

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Previous research suggests that clergy members are often an initial contact for people seeking advice or social services and clergy often refer such individuals in need to outside agencies. Recent “faith-based initiatives” seek to engage churches and religious groups more deeply in social service delivery, potentially changing the mix of organizations to which clergy might refer people in need. In addition, public debates about faith-based social services have drawn attention to religion, often in politically divisive ways. Using semi-structured interviews and vignettes in which key characteristics of outside agencies are experimentally varied, we explore the implications of this heightened attention to religion on clergy referrals. We find that increasing the salience of religion affects clergy referral choices, with some clergy even willing to sacrifice quality care and resources for an individual in need when religious options are available as referral choices. We argue that this occurs at least in part because making religion salient in policy and referrals makes religious differences salient as well.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Jessica L. Collett is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0027., Email: 2: Tiffiny E. Guidry is a graduate student, Department of Sociology, University of Arizona., Email: 3: Nancy J. Martin is a graduate student, Department of Sociology, University of Arizona., Email: 4: Rebecca Sager is a graduate student, Department of Sociology, University of Arizona. The authors' names appear in alphabetical order; each contributed equally to the research and writing., Email:

Publication date: 2006-03-01

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