We would like to thank all those who submitted proposals to the Science of Generosity Dissertation Fellowship Competition. Our judges were impressed by the high quality of the research graduate students are conducting on the topic of generosity. From a wide array of proposals, the judges selected the five dissertation projects that focus on matters of real social significance and promise to make an innovative contribution to generosity research. The following is a list of the winners, along with brief biographies and descriptions of their projects.
Rahsaan Harris, Public and Urban Policy, New School University
Kathryn A. Johnson, Social Psychology, Arizona State University
Marisa Gerstein Pineau, Sociology, UCLA
Brandy Quinn, Education, Stanford University
Gizem Zencirci, Political Science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Rahsaan Harris is a doctoral candidate of public and urban policy at New School University. Formerly, he worked at The Atlantic Philanthropies, focusing on social justice and racial equity grantmaking. In 2005, he was selected as an Association of Black Foundation Executives Connecting Leaders Fellow and in 2009 he became an Independent Sector/American Express NGen Fellow. Harris has master’s degrees from NYU and Columbia University and a BA in biology from Princeton University.
Race, Class and Generosity
Harris’s dissertation focuses on black philanthropy, defined as giving and volunteering, to see whether generosity differs for blacks of various classes. Are the ties that bind blacks stronger than differences that occur due to socio-economic stratification? If blacks of different socio-economic classes share common philanthropic interests, there is evidence of a linked-fate dynamic that impacts black generosity. There would therefore be potential benefits of leveraging these common interests to improve black communities in despair and cause to explore why current conditions in many black communities stagnate despite these common interests. If there is no evidence of philanthropic linked fate, it is unlikely that high socio-economic status (SES) blacks will be more likely to be generous to causes of interest to low-SES blacks than individuals from other racial and ethnic groups. These findings have implications for understanding blacks’ interest and capacity to help black communities in need through their generosity. Black philanthropy is examined through secondary analysis of the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study (COPPS) dataset. This study seeks to resolve the longstanding debate whether class, race, or both dictate blacks’ generosity.
Kathryn A. Johnson is a doctoral candidate in social psychology at Arizona State University, where she received dual MAs in Psychology and Religious Studies. Merging these two perspectives, Johnson has published in journals such as the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the Journal of Religious Ethics, and Social and Personality Psychology Compass. She has also presented her findings at trans-disciplinary conferences as well as conferences sponsored by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
The Influence of Benevolent vs. Judgmental God-Concepts on Volunteerism
Religious beliefs can exert powerful influences on thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Nearly all religions characterize God as both a punishing judge and a benevolent care-giver; however, these two views of God may influence people in different ways. Johnson proposes to test whether concepts of God as benevolent vs. judgmental are linked to the generous giving of one’s time and effort to help dissimilar others through volunteerism. She will conduct two studies. The first uses survey methods to investigate the effects of different concepts of God on the following: a benevolent self-identity, the value of benevolence, felt moral obligation to volunteer, beliefs in a just world, volunteer motivations, and intentions to volunteer. In the second study, concepts of God as either benevolent or judgmental will be activated through scripture readings. As a behavioral measure, participants will be invited to return the week after the readings for an actual volunteer activity offered in conjunction with a local community service organization. Johnson expects to find that increased attention to the benevolent (rather than judgmental) nature of God fosters the development of a benevolent self-identity which, in turn, will intrinsically motivate people to volunteer to help even those outside one’s religious group. She hopes her research will help people of diverse faith traditions find common ground that will help them move toward a more compassionate and humane approach to solving social problems.
Marisa Gerstein Pineau is a doctoral student in sociology at UCLA, and her research focuses on gender, caregiving and health. Her Master’s thesis examined California’s Paid Family Leave Program and its implications for equality in caregiving.
Valuing Mother’s Milk: 100 Years of Breast Milk Banking
This dissertation examines the evolution of breast milk from a commodity to a sacralized gift over the course of the 20th Century. Using a combination of content analysis of institutional records, and interviews with breast milk bank managers, donors, and recipients, it analyzes breast milk banks operating in three different eras. Initial findings indicate that the sacralization of breast milk is connected to three trends: changes in women’s employment opportunities, new mothering ideologies and advances in technology. Between 1910 and 1935, lower-income women’s limited employment opportunities obligated some to sell their milk, while technological advances made disembodying breast milk easier, freeing it from the moral ambiguities of wet-nursing and creating a therapeutic commodity. Between 1948 and 1977, women’s employment opportunities increased while rising prosperity allowed middle class women to stay home, creating a pool of middle-class donors motivated by mothering ideologies rather than money. Meanwhile, safer formulas and declining breastfeeding rates made breast milk increasingly rare. Rising employment and new technologies, combined with ideology, sacralized breast milk in this era. Today, milk donors are primarily employed mothers who express milk at work using efficient new breast pumps, creating an excess supply they are loath to dispose of, because of the milk’s sentimental value. Thus, this research demonstrates that trends that typically advance commodification, such as widespread employment and new technologies, can have the reverse effect when combined with ideology, making a commodity a gift.
Brandy Quinn is a candidate for the PhD in Education (Developmental and Psychological Sciences) at Stanford University. Prior to graduate study at Stanford, Brandy was a teacher and retreat coordinator at La Salle High School in Pasadena, California. Brandy has a BA in English from Whittier College, an MA in Theological Studies from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and an MEd in Teaching from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.
Generous Schools, Generous Purpose and Spirituality in Adolescence
This dissertation asks what role a generous school climate can play in the development of purpose during adolescence. Recent theory in positive youth development suggests that spirituality may play a role in the development of many positive youth outcomes, including purpose. Quinn hypothesizes that schools that are perceived as generous places may positively influence the development of generous purpose, and that spirituality has the potential to play an important role in this process. She will examine spirituality as both a resource students bring with them to the school context, and as a particular type of fertile context for the development of generous purpose that the school may provide. She will investigate this question by surveying entering high school freshmen at four distinct types of high school about the degree to which they experience their school as generous, what their hopes and dreams are, and about their religious and/or spiritual beliefs. These students will be surveyed once during the earliest days of their 9th grade year, and a second time close to the end of their 9th grade year. Then, regression analysis of survey data and content analysis of open-ended questions included on the survey will be used to determine the possible relationships between generous schools, generous purposes and adolescent spirituality.
Gizem Zencirci is a PhD Candidate in the department of Political Science, UMass Amherst. She received her BA and MA degrees from Bilkent University, Turkey. She specializes in comparative politics and political theory. Her research interests include welfare regimes, charity, philanthropy, civil society, political Islam, globalization and Middle East politics.
Market Generosity: Corporate Social Responsibility, Volunteering, and Charitable Giving in Contemporary Turkey
This dissertation investigates the phenomenon of “market generosity,” or the forms and practices of generosity that have emerged in countries going through the process of economic liberalization. The specific focus is Turkey, a country that has witnessed a remarkable spurt in social giving in the recent decade, during a period of extensive economic transformation. Although there is a rich historical tradition of Islamic giving in Turkey, the current manifestations of market generosity are markedly different. By focusing on the relationship between market reforms and the development of new forms of giving, this dissertation contributes to the science of generosity by examining the causes and consequences of generosity and drawing attention to its multi-dimensional character. In so doing, Zencirci has two research objectives. First, in contrast to scholarship which focuses on demographic, psychological or behavioral determinants of giving behavior she draws attention to the political-economic context within which certain practices of giving are more likely to flourish. Second, she moves beyond the compartmentalized study of generosity by conducting an integrated analysis of volunteering, corporate giving and charitable giving via a structured comparison across religious and secular constituencies in Turkey.