Religion and Democracy in the United States

Religion and Democracy in the United States: Danger or Opportunity?

Alan Wolfe
Ira Katznelson
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 456
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    Religion and Democracy in the United States
    Book Description:

    The United States remains a deeply religious country and religion plays an inextricably critical role in American politics. Controversy over issues such as abortion is fueled by opposition in the Catholic Church and among conservative Protestants, candidates for the presidency are questioned about their religious beliefs, and the separation of church and state remains hotly contested. While the examination of religion's influence in politics has long been neglected, in the last decade the subject has finally garnered the attention it deserves. InReligion and Democracy in the United States, prominent scholars consider the ways Americans understand the relationship between their religious beliefs and the political arena.

    This collection, a work of the Task Force on Religion and American Democracy of the American Political Science Association, thoughtfully explores the effects of religion on democracy and contemporary partisan politics. Topics include how religious diversity affects American democracy, how religion is implicated in America's partisan battles, and how religion affects ideas about race, ethnicity, and gender. Surveying what we currently know about religion and American politics, the essays introduce and delve into the range of current issues for both specialists and nonspecialists.

    In addition to the editors, the contributors are Allison Calhoun-Brown, Rosa DeLauro, Bette Novit Evans, James Gibson, John Green, Frederick Harris, Amaney Jamal, Geoffrey Layman, David Leal, David Leege, Nancy Rosenblum, Kenneth Wald, and Clyde Wilcox.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3677-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-16)
    Rosa DeLauro

    To be sure, I am not a political scientist or theologian; nor do I study religion’s role in politics with an academic’s eye. But as a public official, a Democrat, and a Catholic, I do experience it firsthand on an almost daily basis. And so this article is not to be any kind of final analysis but rather something closer to a work in progress: I intend to offer a snapshot of my own faith and its effect on my work as a policy maker today. In the process, I hope to provide a practitioner’s opinion on the role that...

  6. Part I Religious Pluralism and American Democracy
      (pp. 19-45)
      Alan Wolfe

      “Scarcely any political question,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in one of the most widely cited sentences inDemocracy in America, “arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.”¹ If he were writing today, Tocqueville might be tempted to say that however any political question ends up, it originates as a religious one. Scarcely an election takes place or a policy is proposed before someone brings religion into the conversation. Some celebrate its presence, while others condemn it, but both agree that to understand what is happening in American politics, religion has to...

      (pp. 46-88)
      John C. Green

      The reelection of President George W. Bush in 2004 led many Americans to rediscover the political relevance of religion.¹ To some people, Bush’s strong support from religious voters—especially his fellow Protestants—was deeply troubling. Thus, they might well have appreciated the following campaign appeal:

      I believe it would be tragic—and I repeat, tragic—not only for the United States at home but for the picture of the United States presence abroad, if this election were determined primarily, or even substantially, on religious grounds.²

      However, this appeal was not issued in the 2004 election but in the 1960 campaign,...

    • Chapter 3 MUSLIM AMERICANS: Enriching or Depleting American Democracy?
      (pp. 89-113)
      Amaney Jamal

      Since 9-11, Muslim Americans have increasingly been viewed as suspicious entities in American society. Not only is there a pervasive and dominating fear that Muslims have violent tendencies aimed at destroying all things American, but even those Muslims who profess allegiance to America are thought inherently incapable of sharing core American democratic values because they embrace a rigid and intolerant Islamic faith. Thus, not only are Muslim Americans viewed as other conservative religious groups, like the Christian Right, as groups that uphold inherently intolerant and regressive beliefs; this group is also viewed as anti-American and as people who, through the...

      (pp. 114-144)
      Bette Novit Evans

      By all measures the United States is among the most religiously intense and diverse nations in the world. Our daily newspapers regularly chronicle the disastrous consequences of religious intensity and diversity across the globe. Although the United States has not been free from religious bigotry, hatred, and even violence, overall it has an enviable record for both religious freedom and peace. Mark Lilla, in aNew York Times Magazinearticle, describes the American success as “a miracle”:

      As for the American experience, it is utterly exceptional: there is no other fully developed industrial society with a population so committed to...

  7. Part II Religion and Democratic Values
    • Chapter 5 THE POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF RELIGIOSITY: Does Religion Always Cause Political Intolerance?
      (pp. 147-175)
      James L. Gibson

      For quite some time, social scientists have recognized that religiosity and political intolerance are closely intertwined, with those who are more deeply committed to religion tending toward greater intolerance. However, scholars have not been entirely clear about whether religious beliefs cause intolerance, whether intolerance causes religious beliefs, or whether intolerance and religious beliefs share a common antecedent, such as dogmatism and authoritarianism. Moreover, debate exists as to what precisely it is about being religious that fuels intolerance. Possible candidates include the belief in dogma, with clear and rigid distinctions between ideas that are “right” and “wrong,” the tendency of those...

      (pp. 176-211)
      Clyde Wilcox

      The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and the rise of the Christian Right in the United States sparked an interest among political scientists in the power of religion to influence politics (Wald and Wilcox 2006). The Iranian revolution came as a surprise to a discipline that accepted the inevitability of secularization (Wolfe, chapter 1, this volume); Iran had been perceived as an exemplar of secular modernization. The establishment of a new regime where religious authorities had veto power and the use of apostasy trials to squelch dissent made clear the potential for illiberal religious movements to undermine and destroy...

    • Chapter 7 RELIGION AND PARTY ACTIVISTS: A “Perfect Storm” of Polarization or a Recipe for Pragmatism?
      (pp. 212-252)
      Geoffrey C. Layman

      Far and away the dominant theme in recent observations about American party politics is that the two major parties are growing increasingly polarized, with the Republican Party moving in a conservative direction on nearly all major issues of public policy while the Democratic Party stakes out consistently liberal ground. Party polarization has been an exceedingly popular topic for journalists such asNew York Timescolumnist Paul Krugman (2002), who contends that “Fundamental issues are at stake, and the parties are as far apart on those issues as they ever have been”;Washington Postcommentator George F. Will (2004), who notes...

  8. Part III Political Diversity and American Religion
    • Chapter 8 ENTERING THE PROMISED LAND? The Rise of Prosperity Gospel and Post–Civil Rights Black Politics
      (pp. 255-278)
      Fredrick C. Harris

      The funeral of Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King, in February 2006 symbolically revealed the diminishing influence of the prophetic tradition in African-American politics and civic life. What surfaced in this ritual of remembrance and homage to Mrs. King, who for over thirty years kept the memory and the values of her husband’s message of peace and social change in the nation’s consciousness, was a nod to a theological worldview whose beliefs are antithetical to the prophetic tradition Dr. King embraced. Dr. King’s funeral in 1968 had been held at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is surrounded by...

    • Chapter 9 THIS FAR BY FAITH? Religion, Gender, and Efficacy
      (pp. 279-307)
      Allison Calhoun-Brown

      Early in 2008, I went to a women’s meeting with a friend at a local church not too far from where I live. Those in attendance at the meeting fully reflected the rich mosaic of African-American religious life. In the same room there were medical doctors, attorneys, engineers, psychologists, and college professors fellowshipping somewhat seamlessly with others who in social scientific language would be classified as “the under-class”—women with no or low-paying jobs, some from housing projects, others with miraculous testimonies of survival—all sharing the word of faith. There were young women and old, married women and single,...

      (pp. 308-352)
      David L. Leal

      This chapter explores the role of religion in Latino¹ political and civic lives. It addresses not only how religion affects traditional measures of political participation but, more importantly, how the support of religious institutions and the inspiration of faith have contributed to the preservation and empowerment of Latino communities in the past and the present.

      The role of religion in Latino communities is not well known. Although most political scientists have a vague sense of Latinos as a Catholic population with some Protestant adherents, there is little understanding of how religious organizations and belief have shaped Latino political life. In...

  9. Part IV Religion and Cultural Conflict
      (pp. 355-381)
      Kenneth D. Wald and David C. Leege

      When the principal association of political scientists in the United States convenes a Task Force on Religion and American Democracy, the action suggests that religion matters in American public life. This assumption, reinforced by an outpouring of published research over the last thirty years, has not always been widely accepted by political scientists. Indeed, the prevailing attitude toward religion in the discipline has traditionally been characterized by indifference, a tendency to regard religion as a minor political force that arises occasionally and often with baleful consequences for the political system (Wald and Wilcox 2006). In terms of scholarly attentiveness to...

    • Chapter 12 FAITH IN AMERICA: Political Theory’s Logic of Autonomy and Logic of Congruence
      (pp. 382-410)
      Nancy L. Rosenblum

      American institutions and political thought reflect the historically momentous separation of government from theology and divine revelation. We have imperfect separation of church and state. But we do not have anything like separation of religion and politics. Americans’ religiosity is measurable and intense,¹ and so are the political participation of citizens qua believers, advocacy by religious groups, and constitutional litigation on behalf of religious claims. The past several decades of religious politics in the United States and abroad have startled political theorists into thought,² jogging us to contemplate the significance of politically active religion for democracy. In this chapter, I...

  10. CONCLUSION Reflections on Religion, Democracy, and the Politics of Good and Evil
    (pp. 411-430)
    Ira Katznelson

    The American experience contradicts once-widespread expectations that religion would decline and become ever more contained in the private sphere of conscience and association under modern conditions, where religion is a choice rather than an imperative.¹ Over time, religious adherence has grown. Fewer than two in ten Americans formally belonged to a church in 1776, just over four in ten did by 1890, and nearly two in three do today.² In aggregate and on average, the American people testify to more belief (with well over 90 percent persistently affirming a belief in God³) and possess more widespread attachment to organized religion...

  11. Index
    (pp. 431-444)