209199 Paradox, partnership and paradigm shift: An examination of the health and human service sector's response to religious pluralism among clients and interfaith organizations in the New England region

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

David J. O'Malley, MDiv, MSW, PhD , Department of Social Work, Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater, MA
This research examines how governmental and non-governmental human service organizations are responding to the phenomenon of religious diversity and pluralism in the New England Region. The increase in religious and spiritual heterogeneity can be attributed to immigration, intermarriage and religious conversions/transitions. This research was based on qualitative interviews conducted with leaders in the health and human service sector of the six New England states including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Of particular interest was the work of organizations and agencies which have intentionally chosen to engage in or support interfaith efforts and partnerships involving governmental and faith-based entities. The data for this research was based on interviews with key informants from governmental and non-governmental agencies serving urban, suburban and rural settings. Respondents identified a number of critical issues as the focus of their work including economic security, human and legal rights of immigrant populations, employment, housing, nutrition, education and health care. Ten key organizational functions which may potentially be performed by interfaith organizations and their partners were identified. These include: 1) dialogue, 2) education, 3)reflection/commemoration/celebration, 4) crisis intervention, 5) direct service provision, 6) mediation, 7) research, 8) advocacy, 9) capacity building/training, and 10) lobbying. Respondents provided case exemplars of emerging opportunities and challenges facing their clients, members, partners, volunteers or professional staff. The results of the research may be of interest to a variety of individuals and organizations including governmental and non-governmental stakeholders.

Learning Objectives:
1. Discuss the significance of religious pluralism in relation to health and human service provision. 2. Differentiate between organizations which are ecumenical and interfaith. 3. List ten functions which interfaith organizations may potentially perform in a community.

Keywords: Religion, Faith Community

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have conducted primary research related to this topic over the past two years in my role as a religious professional, a social worker and as a full-time faculty member in an accredited social work program. I have presented over the past three years on related topics at the American Academy of Religion, the Boston College Conference on HIV/AIDS and Social Work,and the Council on Social Work Education Annual Meeting. I have also served as consultant and trainer within the past two years to the Connecticut and Maine Departments of Health and Human Services on issues relating to religious diversity, faith, spirituality and health. My teaching responsibilites include issues of human diversity and culturally competent social work practice. My area of scholarship has included looking at how religious diversity and pluralism in American society are affecting relationships between and among clients, service providers, organizations/agencies (governmental and non-governmental)and the larger community.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.