‘Moral selving’ and Faith-based volunteering

by julie.brown on Avril 11, 2016 - 2:40pm

In a review for Social Forces of Rebecca Anne Allahyari’s book “Vision of Charity: Volunteer Workers and Moral Community”, Cheryl Carpenter outlines the research performed by Allahyari in two different meal programs in Sacramento, California: Loaves & Fishes, and a Salvation Army meal program.

Though both programs ultimately had the same goal – providing meals for the poor – their backgrounds and different contributors mean that they “defined, justified and practiced this work in markedly different ways with different consequences for volunteers”.

Other than noting that the body of volunteers present at each program was different or that their emphasis was placed on different aspects of serving the community, “Visions of Charity” argues that these organizations present different but important opportunities for volunteers to “see work for social change as part of creating a more moral self”. ‘Moral selving’, according to Allahyari, is a way in which individuals transform themselves into more righteous, moral and usually more spiritual people. By participating in these moral communities, volunteers adapt the values and moral sentiment promoted by the organisms. In this sense, Loaves & Fishes and the Salvation Army become moral resources to guide the volunteers in this quest for self-amelioration.  

This hypothesis is interesting because it can inform the way we think of volunteer work, especially within faith or religiously affiliated organizations. If the programs with which we volunteer can affect the way we prioritize or perceive moral values, they we may want to be careful when choosing where we volunteer, or we may want to privilege faith-based organizations because of their moral standard or their intentions.

Allahyari’s ideas about ‘moral selving’ are also worth considering when observing news stories where religious communities have been directly involved with the community they are impacting. The “Visions of Charity” author stipulates that “As moral entrepreneurs, Salvation Army and Loaves & Fishes staff members formally and informally socialized volunteers into their moral communities”. Volunteers and participants become an almost integral part of the community, and often community integration is indeed a major goal, as was the case with a church in Outremont that held a dinner to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada. Allahyari’s precepts would explain not only the reasons these communities or religious groups get involved, but also account for the way “volunteers [can] see work for social change as part of creating a more moral self”.



Carpenter, Cheryl. "Visions of Charity: Volunteer Workers and Moral Community." Social Forces 80.2 (2001): 743-5. ProQuest. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. http://search.proquest.com/pqrl/docview/229901485/6553B1C359094391PQ/3?accountid=44391

The majority of the cited review is available here: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/social_forces/v080/80.3carpenter.html

About the author

Julie Brown is a Digital Imaging and Studio Arts student at Champlain College. She is very interested in matters concerning culture and the arts, as well as youth matters, technology and social activism.