Allahyari, Rebecca Anne, Visions of Charity: Volunteer Workers and Moral Community. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. A superb and fascinating study of religion and volunteerism in American relief organizations. Allahyari spent time volunteering in two religious charities, Loaves & Fishes (built on the Catholic Worker model) and the Salvation Army. She coins the term "moral selving" to describe how volunteers approach their experiences in these two radically different models. Raises important questions in any discussion of the moral aspects of relief models.

Bane, Mary Jo and Lawrence M. Mead, Lifting Up the Poor: A Dialogue on Religion, Poverty and Welfare Reform. Pew Forum Dialogues on Religion and Public Life. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute Press, 2003; for more on the Pew Forum visit and/or Two of the nation's foremost scholars and policy advocates examine the influence of personal religious commitment on policy decisions.

Bartkowski, John P. and Helen A. Regis. Charitable Choices: Religion, Race, and Poverty in the Post-Welfare Era. NY: New York University Press, 2003. "Charitable choice" is a new catch-phrase in American politics. These authors use extensive survey data to examine the challenging relationship between religion and social welfare to investigate faith-based poverty-relief in the "post-welfare era" in the United States.

Drèze, Jean and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action. WIDER Studies in Development Economics. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989. This is a classic; anything by Amartya Sen is inspiring and relevant. Although he does not discuss religion, he approaches relief issues with clarity and compassion.

Duncan, Cynthia M. Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in America, with a foreword by Robert Coles. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1999. "Hears" the stories of those living in poverty in 3 remote areas in the US: Blackwell in Appalachia, Dahlia in the Mississippi Delta, and the Gray Mountain area in Northern New England. Insight into how communities deal with poverty and its associated problems.

Easwaran, Eknath, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, A Man to Match His Mountains. Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press, 1989. Badshah Khan was a devout Muslim leader of the Pathan tribe in Afghanistan, and committed follower of Gandhi's "peaceful revolution" who gave up the chance for an education in England to devote it to his people. This is a deeply moving and inspiring biography of what it means to use one's personal power, even to total self-sacrifice, for peace and justice that is deeply rooted in religious convictions.

Ehrenreich, Barbara, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. NY: Henry Holt, 2001. Ehrenreich is a journalist who went "under cover" to see how those in America who are stuck with entry-level jobs actually get by. Critics (there are lots of them at the site of her book) justly note that her functional distance from her coworkers' lives keeps her from a certain empathy one might expect in such a book, and she only refers once (in passing) to the supportive role of churches and religious community in "poor" America. Still a book well worth reading for its discussion value, as well as an insight into the huge but unstated differences in the way social class affects how one looks at the job market.

Farmer, Paul, Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. with a foreword by Amartya Sen. Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press, 2005. "An eloquent plea for a working definition of human rights that would not neglect the most basic rights of all: food, shelter, and health." Farmer at his most passionate and engaging; very readable. For more on Paul Farmer, see his hospital profile, read about Partners in Health, or see Tracy Kidder's book, below.

Garrett, Laurie, Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health. NY: Hyperion, 2000. Read the reviews of this controversial and slightly "sensationalist" book at; the author is there noted for lacking a scholar's attention to detail accuracy. . Worth reading with a critical eye, for its "on-the-ground" stories of diverse modern public health crises. Written by a journalist who has a very obvious point of view, which may not be those of the "people" themselves. Includes narratives on: the 1994 plague in India; the Ebola virus in Zaire; public health collapse in the former USSR; class and public health disparity in the US; and a chapter on bioterrorism.

Gornick, Mark R. To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City. Foreword by Miroslav Volf. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002. A persuasive theological account of community building. Gornik is a pastor who tells the story of inner-city redemption in the establishment of New Song Community Church in Baltimore. Gornik now directs City Seminary of New York.

Holman, Susan, God Knows There's Need: Christian Responses to Poverty. NY: Oxford University Press, 2009. A creative narrative reading of stories about poverty relief from the early church as they may inform modern responses.

Kidder, Tracy, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. NY: Random House, 2003. If you haven't read this book, read it now. It's also just as good on tape. Farmer is a brilliant physician and anthropologist who grew up dirt poor, has dedicated his life to the poor sick in Haiti, and runs a superb Social Medicine Division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The book includes observations on how his Catholic upbringing influences his work, and how the Haitians see him as a deeply religious person; this aspect is minimized by Farmer himself, however. See recommended Farmer's book, above

Marsh, Charles, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, From the Civil Rights Movement to Today. NY: Basic Books, 2005. Consciously emphasizing the Judeo-Christian roots of their convictions, civil rights leaders had the vision of building a "beloved community" on earth. Marsh, director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia, builds on his earlier studies on the history of the civil rights movement and its religious impetus here by tracing how "the pursuit of the beloved community continues to foster racial unity and civic responsibility in a divided American culture."

Sen, Amartya, Development as Freedom. NY: Anchor Books, 1999. "Places individual freedom at the center of a comprehensive analysis of today's global economy", integrating the role of the market, state, media, opposition groups and NGOs. Regards freedom "both as the basic end and the most effective means of sustaining economic life and countering poverty and insecurity in the contemporary world." Particularly important discussion for the post-9/11 American society.

Shipler, David K., The Working Poor: Invisible in America. NY: Knopf, 2005. If you have to choose between Ehrenreich and this book, buy this book. Shipler did in-depth interviews over a 5-year period tracing what it's like to struggle at the bottom edge of the working class. It left this reader with the sobering reminder that it can happen to any of us at any time. Very level approach and great reading by a Pulitzer-prize winning writer. Minimal discussion of religion.

Wallis, Jim, Faith Works: How to Live Your Beliefs and Ignite Positive Social Change. NY: Random House, 2000. If you know Jim Wallis (Sojourners), you'll expect a book that is both practical and political. And written on a very broadly readable level. It is.


Benson, Mary Eleanor, Full text online of Streets and Lanes of the City by Nellie Benson. Nellie was the daughter of E.W. Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of the 19th century. She died at age 27 of diphtheria (unrelated to her work with the poor). Her book, published privately by her father after her death, and here posted with a new introduction, provides a vivid description of the slum families she worked with in the Southwark area of London, near Lambeth Palace.

MacDonald, George, Weighed and Wanting. Those who know the Victorian novelist, George MacDonald, will know that practical Christianity seeps through every page of his stories about poor and rich in 19th century Scotland and England. Weighed and Wanting was his most explicit "relief"-focused, novel, its heroine dedicating her life to hands-on engagement with urban poverty. The book is a good book for "light reading" on this topic and is available in two modern editions: The Gentlewoman's Choice, edited and abridged by Michael Phillips, published by Baker Books; and as an unabridged reprint of the original, with the original title, available from Johannesen Printing and Publishing [The Complete Works of George MacDonald, Series VII], PO Box 24, Whitehorn, CA, 95589.

Riis, Jacob A. Riis was a Danish immigrant to New York City in the 19th century who started penniless, then worked with the police department, taking photographs of the New York slums, and ending his career as a social activist whose newswriting (and photographs) inspired significant public health changes in the way slums were built and run. Dover Publications has issued modern reprints of two of his key works:
(1) How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York, with 100 photographs (ISBN 0486220125) (NY: Dover Publications, 1971) [utterly phenomenal 8½x12" b&w photographs with narrative]; originally published in 1901 with only a few of the photographs included in this new edition; if you want photos, this is the volume to get.
(2) The Battle with the Slum (Minneola, NY: Dover Publications, 1998) (ISBN 0486401960), originally published in 1902. A more extensive text narrating the problems and solutions Riis instigated and dreamed of. The photos in this volume are virtually all taken from How the Other Half Lives, and are much poorer quality