Richard J. Wood and associates of the Yale Divinity School explored how changes in public policy impact religious institutions and practices; they also examined how transformations in religious life have changed public policies. Wood and associates had finished work on earlier Lilly-funded grants to study nonprofit organizations through the Program on Non-Profit Organization. As a result, it became apparent that the interaction between public religion and public policy is an important area needing research. This has occurred in the backdrop of what Wood and associates call “new polity” that is emerging as a result of the devolution of responsibilities for financing and delivering education, health, and human services from the federal to state and local governments and from government to private sectors. As a result congregations and faith based organization are increasingly become central in providing essential services to those previously served by the welfare bureaucracy; church and state boundaries have become more fluid; religious organizations have come under pressure for more effective management, governance, and accountability; faith based and para-church organizations have become more significant for providing service, advocacy, and political mobilization; and finally, more scholarly attention is being given to the role of churches and religious organizations in encouraging civic participation and supporting the associational base of civil society.
However, the general trend is that religious organizations appear to have been asked more than they could deliver without altering the essential character of their religious commitments and identities; additionally, without adequate preparation, religious organizations could adopt management and governance practices that displaces their core commitments to spiritual goals with more worldly and self-interested purposes.
Wood and associates therefore aimed at (1) developing an understanding of the distinctive characteristics and growing centrality of religious and faith-based organizations among secular and social policy scholars, and (2) identifying skills and competencies required for effective management of religious and faith-based organizations engaged in social service delivery. Several areas were examined in order to address the preceding questions: faith-based food service, theology, polity, and public participation, voluntary associations and non-profit organizations, congregations and community building, and the response of faith-based organizations to devolution and welfare reform. As a result of this study, several curriculum changes were made at the Yale Divinity School; additionally, new courses were developed. The findings of this study were disseminated through several scholarly publications and at a national capstone conference which combined efforts from other similar activities funded by other sources.