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“AMBASSADORS OF GOD” AND “THE SINKING CLASSES”: VISIONS OF CHARITY AND MORAL SELVING

Rebecca Anne Allahyari (Women's Studies Program, University of Maryland at College Park)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 1 January 1996

136

Abstract

American sociology has long been concerned with the social conditioning of American character, particularly with regard to caring for others. This interest can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1899[1838]) in which he reflected on how democratic participation in government and voluntary associations in the 1830s shaped the American character. Tocqueville believed that participation in social institutions, and especially voluntary societies, balanced the potentially excessive individualism he observed in the United States. David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd: A Study of Changing American Character (1950) picked up similar themes in an exploration of the isolation of the individual within modern society. These concerns reached a broad audience more recently in Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton's Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985) in which the authors argued that the scale had swung in favor of individualism at the expense of commitment to the social good. Robert Wuthnow (1991) addressed these issues again in Acts of Compassion: Caring for Others and Helping Ourselves, in which he explored how in volunteer work, Americans attempted to reconcile compassion with individualism. These studies, primarily focusing on white, middle‐class Americans, have laid the groundwork for an exploration of the social nature of the American character within the context of caring for others.

Citation

Anne Allahyari, R. (1996), "“AMBASSADORS OF GOD” AND “THE SINKING CLASSES”: VISIONS OF CHARITY AND MORAL SELVING", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 16 No. 1/2, pp. 35-69. https://doi.org/10.1108/eb013240

Publisher

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MCB UP Ltd

Copyright © 1996, MCB UP Limited

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