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What is Philanthropic
Studies? Why Study It?

Over the past century the
field of Philanthropic Studies has been steadily growing and changing as more
and more people have begun to analyze and study its’ many facets pertaining to
education and everyday life. Some who analyzed philanthropy even argued for it
to be studied more closely and at a greater length. Those who pushed for this
further inquiry into philanthropy ranged from Merle Curti, and his notion that to
better understand the development of American society one needs to look at the
past through the lens of philanthropy, to the later works of Robert Payton and
Michael Moody who coined one of the most commonly recognized meanings of
philanthropy today “voluntary action for the public good,” (Payton & Moody,
2008, 6). Today however, thanks to those who choose to investigate more on the
matter over the years, Philanthropic Studies is now recognized as a formalized
field of study. This is the first generation of students who will be graduating
and enter into the workforce with a degree in Philanthropic Studies. Though Philanthropic
Studies has only recently established itself as an actual field of study the
questions still remains, what exactly is
Philanthropic Studies, and why
study it? The field of Philanthropic Studies should be studied because it
enables students to acquire the historical, practical, and critical thinking
skills needed to better understand the social and civil problems of the world.

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The Indiana University Lilly
Family School of Philanthropy defines Philanthropic studies as learning a theoretical framework and
practical knowledge about the whys of giving and volunteering as well as the
how to of working within nonprofit organizations and civil society to create
change. (IU Office of Creative
2014-2016). By having this definition of Philanthropic Studies one can better
understand its many aspects, though is that definition enough to warrant an
understanding of why it should be a field of research? Merle Curtli in his 1957
essay, “The History of American Philanthropy as a Field of Research,” attempts
to shed light onto this question by establishing that one can better understand
the development of the United States as a nation through the lens of
philanthropy, and its ever evolving nature (Curti, 1957). To agree with Curit, Philanthropic
Studies is necessary to the understanding of how civil society develops over
time. With the aid of Philanthropic Studies questions such as what has caused
social changes in communities, how have these changes occurred, and what time,
talent, or gifts are currently being used to sustain this changes can start to
be answered.

The need to give or helping
others is something that over the years has been woven into the American way of
life. By understanding where this need comes from, others can begin to see the
benefits to learning more about the pro-social behaviors of philanthropy.  Two psychologists by the names of Irina
Feygina and P.J. Henry probed deeper into understanding the connection between our
pro-social behaviors and how this has shaped our culture (Feygina and Henry,
2015).  Through their research into the topic
they discovered that “…,no other species practices organized cooperation, nor
shows interpersonal empathy, on a scale comparable to that of humans. Some
forms of uniquely human cooperation include helpful behavior towards strangers,
people of no kin connection to oneself…” (Feygina and Henry, 2015). The concept
that we as people are naturally drawn to communicate and seek out the cooperation
of others to form and sustain a community is something that I believe resides
in some of the core concepts of Philanthropic Studies. Another core concept is
that Philanthropic Studies is not just about understanding the study of
philanthropy, but also understanding philanthropy and its relationship with
other fields of study as stated by Peter Hall in his response to Stanly Katz on
the origins of “Serious Study” of philanthropy. “Between 1895 and 1970….

students from 38 institutions had produced 83 dissertations on the topic in the
field of (in order of significance) history (22), education (13), sociology
(11), economics (5), business administration (4), political science (3),
religious studies (3) social work (3), health sciences (2), anthropology (1),
engineering (1), law (1), and literature (1). Clearly the area was neither
neglected by the mainstream disciplines nor, as Katz suggestes, dominated by
the social work doer mentality,” (Hall, 1999). 

Philanthropic Studies allows
its students to follow their interests and passions towards achieving voluntary
action for the public good. This field should be studied due to its potential
for social change and a deeper understanding of philanthropy through other
educational disciplines. Through the study of this felid people are pushed to
discover the sources of problems as well as determining the methods by which an
organization can most effectively bring about positive and lasting change. As
stated earlier the interest in Philanthropic Studies has be around long before
it became a recognized field of study however, now that it is recognized it can
be carefully examined and analyzed thanks to all of the research surrounding
the topic philanthropy today. However one cannot talk about philanthropy today
without also mentioning civil society.

According to Bruce Sievers “Civil
Society, as it has evolved over the past four centuries, has managed to
maintain a delicate balance between the public and private dimensions of social
life,” (Sievers, 2010). Sievers believes that to truly help the common masses
we as individuals people need to better understand the norms and traditions of
civil society. He is convinced that civil society is closely connected to
philanthropy and non-profit organizations. Sievers also has the notion that
philanthropy and non-profits will play a large roll in reestablishing balanced
civil society “One might look to philanthropy, an institution dedicated to the
pursuit of public benefit and guided in part by the norms of the common good,
to help restore the balance in civil society in favor of a public mission,”
(Sievers, 2010). This statement posed by Sievers helped me in my studies to get
a clearer picture of what philanthropy is and how thing can be related to it
yet completely separate in its own right.

 This is the last semester of my undergraduate
career in Philanthropic Studies, and I feel that the tools and knowledge I have
received over the years will come to serve me well as I move towards the
future. One area that that Philanthropic Studies helped me greatly was my
ability to rationalize problems and critical thinking skills about various situations
and conflicts through such things as group projects or assignments. I use to
only be able to converse about the surface information of a thing like
nonprofit organizations, civil society, and philanthropy. Now However, I am
able to answer questions regarding these topics with a deeper and richer
understanding of what they really pertain to. I have also gained more
confidence in myself over the years mostly in part to in class presentations
and writing assignments. This makes me think of Richard Turner who supports Philanthropic
Studies for he sees the benefits of it as self – growth and a desire to learn
more. He claimed further that ” knowing oneself enough to be in a position to
gather with others to do good for others , suggests that… inquiries will lead
to applications, new questions and answers, and improved practices in the
world; in short, making the world a better place” (Turner, 2004). After I
graduate I will continue to increase this confidence and my knowledge of philanthropy
as I prepare to venture out into the workforce.

The field of Philanthropic
Studies has opened my mind in ways that allow me better insight into my own
life and the world around me. A few years ago I would have never imagined I
would be able to experience and be apart of the wonderful mysteries of the
philanthropic world that have allowed me to take the theoretical perspectives
of the philanthropy and apply them to real life while also  being able to see where it all started and how
in became a huge part of todays culture. Philanthropic Studies has help to
shape and influence my life for the better, and will allow me to constantly
change and reach for new heights.











Curti, M. (1957). The History of American philanthropy as a field
of research. The American Historical Review, 62 (2), 352 – 363.

Hall, P. (1999). “The Work of Many Hands: A response to Stanley N.

Katz on the Origins of the “Serious Study” of Philanthropy.” Nonprofit and
voluntary Sector Quarterly, vol 28, 4, 522-534.

IU Office of Creative Services, iuweb @ (n.d.).

IUPUI Campus Bulletin 2014-2016. Retrieved January 27, 2018, from

Payton, R. L, & Moody, M. P. (2008). Understanding Philanthropy
: its meaning and mission. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Turner, R. C. (2004). Philanthropic Studies as a Central and
Centering Discipline in the Humanities. International Journal of the
Humanities, 2 (3), 2083 – 2086.

Sievers, B.R. (2010). Civil
Society, Philanthropy, and the Fate of the Commons. Tufts University Press.

Schroeder, D. A., & Graziano, W. G. (2015). Culture and
Prosocial Behavior. In The Oxford
handbook of prosocial behavior. (pp.188-208) New York: Oxford University


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