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Jill Maxick
Prometheus Books

Steve Hinnefeld
IU University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SPEA professor publishes book on trust in social and governing institutions

May 27, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- In Distrust, American Style: Diversity and the Crisis of Public Confidence, Indiana University faculty member Sheila Suess Kennedy discusses recent research suggesting that Americans have become less trusting of each other -- and the resulting implications for public organizations.

Kennedy, a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, connects the growing levels of distrust of our neighbors and fellow citizens to our loss of faith in social and governing institutions. She argues that restoring trust in these organizations is the key to rebuilding our national psyche.

Kennedy's clear writing style makes Distrust accessible to a wide audience beyond the political scholars who will likely be interested in the book.

Social science research has shown an erosion of social trust among Americans over past decades. Political scientists have warned that this erosion threatens our ability to govern ourselves. Some social scientists argue that our decreasing trust levels are caused by America's increasing diversity. Such claims have encouraged efforts to limit or control diversity, especially those related to immigration. Examples include calls for walls between the United States and Mexico, movements to declare English the official U.S. language and efforts to define America as a Christian nation.

Kennedy approaches the research from a different angle. She notes the challenges to social trust from an increasingly complex modern society, including increased diversity, but argues we must focus on the principles and institutions that hold us together, despite our differences. She contends that our ability to trust in our neighbors depends upon our ability to "trust our social and governing institutions," and catalogues the ways in which those institutions have betrayed our trust over the past decade.

Kennedy believes that by making our governmental, religious and civic institutions trustworthy again, we can strengthen the bonds that tie Americans together.

In order to begin the process, we must reclaim constitutional, accountable government. Kennedy argues that the first steps in confidence rebuilding should focus on reforming the electoral process, improving public accountability and repairing America's tattered social safety net, with a particular emphasis on health care.

Prior to pursuing interests in teaching, writing and research, Kennedy was executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. She has served as corporation counsel for the city of Indianapolis, and was a one-time Republican candidate for U.S. Congress. Her primary research areas include civil liberties and civil rights, charitable choice, religion and public policy and nonprofit organizations.

Her previous books include What's a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing in the ACLU?, in which she argues that civil liberties are, in fact, conservative principles; and God and Country: America in Red and Blue, in which she examines the religious roots of American cultural divisions. Find her full list at

To speak to Kennedy, contact Steve Hinnefeld at IU's University Communications, 812-856-3488 or