Faculty fellow captures better picture of role religious congregations play in Chicago communities

May 26, 2022

Center for Social Concerns Faculty Fellow and professor of Sociology Kraig Beyerlein taught community-engaged courses through the center from the moment he joined Notre Dame. He teaches the undergraduate US-Mexico Border course which was so popular he helped design a faculty seminar that ran alongside it. Professor Beyerlein’s latest community-engaged research studies the vital role religious congregations play in community life in urban areas. Scholarship on this topic has been limited though, he says, because of an important methodological flaw—pre-existing lists undercount congregations. Importantly, this undercounting is not randomly distributed—it is more severe in communities that have a greater percentage of people of color or higher rates of poverty, for example.

To overcome this flaw, Beyerlein, also Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, and fellow professor of Sociology Ricardo Martínez-Schuldt, along with Matthew Sisk of Notre Dame’s Lucy Family Institute for Data and Society, are using virtual technologies (Google Street View linked to GIS maps) and physically canvassing streets to generate the population of congregations in all 77 Chicago Community Areas. The new Chicago Congregations Project (CCP) is supported by funding from Notre Dame Research, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, and the Louisville Institute. The virtual universe of congregations is nearly done, with the physical canvassing part started earlier this month and expected to be done late fall 2022 through the help of students from the center and elsewhere.

With a comprehensive list of congregations, researchers can draw a representative sample and survey faith leaders about their congregations’ involvement in community issues, especially those focused on social justice. The survey phase of the CCP is planned to begin next spring, with in-depth interviews of theoretically-selected congregations to follow in the summer of 2023. The mixed methods will facilitate a fuller understanding of how faith-based institutions in Chicago shape and are shaped by community-level factors. Given the novel methodology, the CCP is positioned to revolutionize the study of religious organization in urban communities.