Christian Charity Work in the Contemporary United States -Volunteering as a practice in Houston, Texas
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In my thesis I have looked at the challenges and dilemmas facing volunteers at a Christian charity organizations located in Houston, Texas. Philanthropy and volunteerism, or the non-profit sector, are often used as an argument by the political right for less government in securing the needs of the population. I have looked at how this sector works and what types of problems volunteers believe they solve. Beliefs about poverty and poor people naturally affect how volunteers respond to the people utilizing the services offered at the organization. For a practice built on the idea of Christian love and mercy, the images informants' have of poor people sometimes come in conflict with this ideal. A central part of my thesis is centered on what these conflicts tell us about the relationship between giver and recipient as well as the understanding of poverty more generally. Gift exchanges is a common topic in anthropology but less have been said about gift exchange in the West. I hope to remedy this situation by discussing more explicitly the nature of Western gifts. One interesting find in this regard is that the recipients perceive the exchange differently than the givers. Another topic for discussion centers on why welfare, for many of my informants, is perceived as negative, whereas philanthropy is thought of as positive for the society. Why this difference and what does it tell about the understanding of poverty in the United States?