Civil Society and Civic Engagement

12 American Studies went to Houston, Texas, to deal with a fundamental issue of the American political process: the importance of civil society for the everyday life of Americans and their self-image. Closely connected with the role of civil society is the grass roots level; it is essential for understanding the political engagement of Americans. The political system of the United States, contrary to the European idea, functions from the lowest level upwards. As a result, community and state issues play a much larger role in the U.S. than they do in Europe.

In Houston, the students met with representatives of different community, social and religious institutions as well as political representatives of the City of Houston to answer the following questions: Do Houstonians focus on state and community questions rather than on federal issues because of the distance to Washington D.C.? In how far do private initiatives assist the rather weak political structures of the South? And is civic engagement tied to individuals’ initiatives or are there institutions, such as religious institutions, which support civic engagement?