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Charitable Choice: The Religious Component of the US-Welfare-Reform — Theoretical and Methodological Reflections on "Faith-Based-Organizations" as Social Service Agencies

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Are religious institutions gaining new strength in the modern welfare state? The concept of "Charitable Choice" is part of a comprehensive welfare reform under the Clinton-Government in 1996. It aims at the formal inclusion of religious organizations ("Faith-Based-Organizations") into the public welfare system. The new relevance of religious organizations as social service providers goes along with a shift of ideas of social inequality and deviant behaviour in terms of having not only structural and economic but also behavioural and moral reasons. The question arises, what is so productive about Faith-Based-Organizations, and, are religious institutions perhaps even more efficient than "secular" agencies? In this essay, I will discuss these questions from a theoretical and methodological point of view, arguing that religious studies have to adjust their analytical framework to the new situation. Religion has by no means lost its collective and material dimension. Therefore, I shall present neo-institutional- and neo-capital-theories as more appropriate approaches than the outdated remains of secularization theory or postmodern etherealism.

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