On 19th of November 2019, the CPPG invited Dr. Janel Curry to speak about her recent study “Social Capital: A STUDY OF EIGHT ETHNIC FARM COMMUNITIES IN IOWA”. Dr. Janel Curry is Professor of Geography and has been Provost (Vice Rector) at Gordon College in Massachusetts- a liberal Christian College. She has also served as Dean for Research and Scholarship at Calvin College prior to going to Gordon. She did her PhD is in geography from the University of Minnesota. She has researched and published extensively in academic journals on issues of migration, diversity, religious tolerance and social capital and rural communities.
Dr. Curry talked about the terminology and elements of social capital along with the presentation of her case study of eight ethnic farm communities in Iowa. She described social capital as those practices, structures, persons or community characteristics that together allow a community city or region to be able to creatively respond and adjust to global economic re-structuring. It holds the community together and allows it to have collaborative action to sustain itself. There are two different components of social capital; bonding and bridging. Bonding defines bonds with those who have a common vision while bridging with those that share common community. Bonding is inward looking that focuses on reinforcing the inclusive communal identity and homogeneity which is essential for developing solidarity and reciprocity. Bonding is needed to develop a shared vision but it is not enough for social capital. On the other hand, bridging has an outward look, which accesses external assets for expertise and resources. It talks about linking to other communities and institutions. Dr. Curry further defined her main argument i.e. social capital cannot be perceived apart from the religious worldviews that lie beneath communities. These worldviews are actually reflections of commitments linked with the answers to basic questions of existence: What is the nature of humankind? What are the most fundamental problems facing society and ourselves. What is the nature of evil? On what do we place our hope for these problems’ solution? Social capital must be unraveled through understanding the kind of societal visions that arise out of communally-held worldviews about these fundamental questions. For this she studied eight different communities in the state of Iowa in the US. Her basic goal was to describe the relationships between religious worldview and social capital. She described Iowa as a mosaic where every single town has a different ethnic and religious background. She went below to the county level to better understand this whole process. She looked at combinations of ethnicities and types of Christian heritages. Dr. Curry studied historical census data and agriculture data presenting farming change in communities, ethnological and historical background, and Church congregation of farmers. She also focused on groups of both men and women and sub groups of farmers. Bonding was seen through the method of storytelling to see how people respond to certain problems present in the story through which she categorized communities as being either individualistic or communal. A sense of communalistic approach was seen in the Dutch Reformed communities, Mennonites and Latter Day Saints while Quakers, Swedish Lutherans; German Reformed and catholic groups had individualistic concerns. Through this study, she came up with another conclusion that there is a negative relationship between communal orientation and number of farm organizations. She concluded that communitarian elements in society are more likely to revitalize society.