Milwaukee is known as a city of churches, and new research focuses on that strength.
An interdisciplinary research initiative called the Halo Project connects Marquette with the city’s diverse network of faith communities to study crime and poverty in Milwaukee.
The project began when economics professor Dr. Noreen Lephardt and graduate student Brenden Mason won a 2010 Forward Thinking grant to begin looking at the spacial relationship between faith communities and crime using geographic information system mapping. “We wanted to explore whether the presence of a faith community had an impact on crime in a neighborhood,” Lephardt says.
They hoped to map social capital such as day care centers, youth programs, meal programs and continuing education that congregations offer but that information was not readily available.
Lephardt shared her dilemma with Dr. Susan Mountin, director of Manresa for Faculty, who has devoted much of her scholarship to studying social justice and the Catholic Worker movement. Mountin became a supporting collaborator who saw a way to go out and get the information.
“This survey offered us an opportunity to match students studying Christian discipleship in the forming of the church with some very real parallels evident in a religiously diverse city,” Mountin says.
Lephardt and Mountin designed a unique pairing of economics and social responsibility in this project by engaging students in conducting case studies of 50 congregations in Milwaukee’s poorest communities. Students are participating in religious services, interviewing members about how their faith traditions work for social justice and collecting data on resources.
Lephardt and Mountin call the Halo Project a first step toward development of more interdisciplinary collaboration on faith-based research, internships and courses, and a way to direct the resources of the university in meaningful work for Milwaukee. — JMM