“Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty”



Last week, I organized a panel at the Association for the Sociology of Religion to discuss Susan Crawford Sullivan‘s new book Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty?University of Chicago Press, 2011). Here  are my brief comments.

“Jamila. Age 28, Black, single. Two children ages 5 and 7 months. Raised Catholic (graduated from Catholic school); now attends Mass occasionally with her mother. Sends her daughter to Mass every week with her mother. On welfare, living in a family shelter.

Lenora, age 22. Hispanic. Single. One child almost two years old. Occasionally attends an evangelical church. On welfare; living in a family shelter.

Peggy. Aged 43. White. Divorced. Two children ages 5 and 15. Devout Evangelical who stopped her previously frequent church attendance when she got divorced. On welfare.” (Appendix A, pp. 227-229, Living Faith).

What images come to mind when you here these profiles, the profiles of 3 of the approximately 50 poor mothers Sullivan interviewed for her book Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty?”

Whatever image came to your mind, I assure you that you will have a very different image of mothers in poverty, and of their deep prayer lives, after you read this book. Among the many reasons I liked this book, perhaps the most important one is that Sullivan presents her interviewees with all the drama of their very difficult lives, and all their hope and faith for a better life to come. She presents their deep trust that “God has a plan”, their strong sense of personal sinfulness and desire to be better, alongside stories of their social isolation from most types of social groups and the particular stigma they often feel from many members and leaders of organized religion.

In presenting the struggles, faith and resilience of extremely poor mothers, Sullivan presents her interviewees in their full humanity and dignity, an important starting point for both social theory and public policy.



I first met Susan at a conference in 2009, where I presented findings from my book telling very similar narratives of hope in the midst of life-threatening trials and extreme poverty among Haitian immigrants. We then exchanged numerous emails and helped each other discover deeper insights from our work, in particular about religion and resilience among the poor. I encourage you to read every word of her new book, even the full list of bios of her interviewees in the appendix.

Her book, although just published, has already been awarded the best new book prize from the Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association. I’m sure our recent author-meets-crtiics panel at the Association for the Sociology of Religion and Susan’s well-deserved award represent the start of much discussion about this important book.

St. Thomas Aquinas’ Prayer for Scholars

Ineffable Creator,

You who are the true source of life and wisdom and the Principle on which everything depends, be so kind as to infuse in my obscure intelligence a ray of your splendor that may take away the darkness of sin and ignorance.

Grant me keenness of understanding, ability to remember, measure and easiness of learning, discernment of what I read, rich grace with words.

Grant me strength to begin well my studies; guide me along the path of my efforts; give them a happy ending.

You who are true God and true Man, Jesus my Savior, who lives and reigns forever.



When I was in graduate school, Davy Carozza, father of my brother-in-law, gave me this prayer from Thomas Aquinas.  It helped a lot, getting through grad school, and it’s still a moving prayer.


What Do We Pray For?

Recently I was talking with a colleague about how to interpret a survey item on a major sociology study which asks respondents “How often do you pray?”  He said that, as a person who doesn’t hold supernatural beliefs, he sometimes finds it hard to deal with life’s difficulties. However, since has nonetheless made it through many challenges without becoming a religious person, people who pray a lot must be people who are biologically more prone to anxiety and hence need to pray when life gets tough.

His hypothesis that people pray because they are biologically prone to anxiety and find comfort in prayer rests on a particular idea of what people are praying for. I must admit that when I started my fieldwork among Haitian Catholics some years ago, I also thought people must be praying to deal with anxieties and challenges, but my interviews taught me otherwise.

One day about a month into my fieldwork at Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church in Miami, I was feeling frustrated that, despite my warm acceptance into the community, [Read more…]