Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 January 2009
This article achieves two objectives. It introduces new insights to current thinking on social policy in the Middle East based on a case study of religious welfare in Lebanon. This in turn provides an analysis of how faith-based welfare may connect to social policy more broadly. Focusing on how five of the most prominent Lebanese Muslim and Christian welfare organisations engage with poverty reduction, the article draws attention to the moral dimension of social policy-making. This is illustrated by an analysis of how the Lebanese faith-based organisations (FBOs) define the objects of their interventions and, subsequently, how appropriately they respond to the causes of social problems. The analysis also includes a review of the FBOs' evaluation of their services. The overall argument of the article comments on the extent to which social welfare in Lebanon has scope to act beyond short-term, instrumental or politicised goals. It argues that human need, the ‘social case’ and poverty are three core concepts which determine the design of social interventions, but they also serve to confuse the definition of the object of social policy. The argument concludes that needs interpretation by welfare service providers in Lebanon is the site of deep contention in the policy-making process, since the lack of clarity in defining the object of policies can hamper the effectiveness of services. This means that while the social action undertaken by FBOs in Lebanon is more complex than the private or corporate charity initiatives known in the British or North American faith-based contexts, religious welfare programmes in Lebanon are more focused on palliative in-kind services.