Works in Progress

My research explores the extent to which religion undergirds or undermines democratic support among citizens. More specifically, I have published articles on the relationship between religion and political tolerance among both citizens and clergy, as well as the political implications of the emergent church movement – an offshoot of evangelicalism that has a radical deliberative democratic structure. My future agenda is concerned with better understanding the role that clergy play in the political and social life of the local congregation, as well as measurement of religiosity and religious classification in survey design.

I rely on a variety of data sources from well known surveys like the GSS and CCES to datasets that I have collected personally of tweets or sermons. My work is highly quantitative in nature and is beginning to include machine learning algorithms to better understand religion and politics.

Measuring Evangelicals: Practical Considerations for Social Scientists (with Andrew Lewis)

Evangelical Protestants garner much attention in polling and public opinion research, in large part because they have become an important electoral coalition in conservative politics. Despite this attention, measuring white evangelicals remains elusive and often opaque. This article seeks to provide practical guidance to researchers who want to measure or analyze evangelicals. In the social sciences, many have adopted a detailed religious affiliation approach that categorizes evangelicals based on the religious tradition of the denominations to which they belong. Others have used a simpler self-identification classification scheme, which asks respondents if they consider themselves “born-again or evangelical”, though it is often unclear if these pollsters and researchers limit their evangelical classification to Protestant self-identifiers. While the affiliation and self-identification schemes are predominant, a practical examination of which approach is best for researchers has been absent until now. Using several waves of the General Social Survey and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we compare the affiliation and self-identification approaches to classifying evangelicals. We find almost no statistical differences between the two measurements in prominent demographic, political, or religious factors. Thus, we suggest that for most researchers, especially when space and time are important considerations, a simple question about broad religious affiliation followed by a born-again or evangelical self-identification question will suffice.

Manuscript

Forthcoming at Politics & Religion

Divine Attribution? The Interaction of Religious and Secular Beliefs on Climate Change Attitudes. (With Paul Djupe and Dan Cox)

After five decades of research, there is still little consensus about the relation of religious variables to environmental attitudes. Even putting aside variations in sampling and measurement, we still have doubts about where consensus exists – the role of religious beliefs. Religious beliefs, such as mastery over nature, are more unstable than previously considered. Moreover, more importantly, these studies have generally failed to consider the role of secular beliefs about environmental problems and the interaction they may have with religion. Using data from a 2012 PRRI survey, we find religious variables have effects conditional on secular beliefs. Moreover, we draw upon an embedded experiment that shows instability in religious dominionism – the dominant religious effect in previous work. The results suggest previous reports of religious effects are not wrong, but overstated and that eliding secular beliefs is a serious sin of omission.

Manuscript

Revise and Resubmit at American Politics Research

The Use of Social Media by Religious Leaders: Evangelical Leaders and Twitter (with Miles Williams)

Social media is altering how some religious leaders communicate with their followers and with the public. This has the potential to challenge theories of religious communication that have been developed in the study of traditional modes such as sermons. We examine how leaders in U.S. evangelicalism use the public platform provided by Twitter. Using over 85,000 tweets from 88 prominent evangelical leaders, we find that these leaders often use their social media platforms as a natural extension of their current modes of communication. However, our findings also suggest that for some leaders social media may be a medium for political communication. Our analysis provides support for the belief that religious leaders that have gained a following for being politically active use their Twitter accounts to spread their political message in contrast to the clear majority of other leaders in our sample who remain relatively silent on political issues. We conclude with a discussion of how our analysis advances theories of religion and communication.

Manuscript

Revise and Resubmit at the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture

To Be of One Mind?: Integrating an LGBT Orientation with Evangelical Beliefs

While there are many identities that individuals associate themselves with, none may be more powerful than sexual orientation and religious beliefs. Previous scholar has described how LGBT individuals try to reconcile their sexual orientation with their evangelical theology using the framework of cognitive dissonance, yet these LGBT evangelicals have never been assessed in a randomly sampled survey. Using the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study this research describes have LGBT evangelical grapple with the cognitive dissonance that occurs in many facets of their lives. In addition, this work attempts to understand how these two cross cutting cleavages reconcile themselves when an LGBT evangelical engages in the political process. This analysis describes a group that is neither entirely LGBT nor evangelical in their demographic characteristics and political partisanship.

Manuscript

Revise and Resubmit at Politics, Groups, and Identities

Gender in the Pulpit: The Differences in Speaking Style for Men and Women

One of the most important shifts occurring in the religious landscape is a significant increase in the number of churches that are ordaining and calling women to the ministry. While a tremendous amount of work in communication has studied the differences in speech by male and female speakers, that analysis has not turned to the level of the sermon. Using nearly 900 sermon transcripts collected from pastors of both genders, this paper uses a number of text analysis techniques including natural language processing and sentiment analysis to understand the differences in sermon delivery between the genders. Our findings note that while sermons delivered by males are significantly longer, that female speakers are more likely to use first person pronouns and tentative speech than their male counterparts. In addition, our sentiment analysis finds that women are more likely to use positive words, generally however sentiment varies dramatically across the entire arc of the sermon.

Manuscript

Revise and Resubmit to The Journal of Communication and Religion

Deus Ex Machina: Using an Algorithm to Create Religious Categories

For decades one of the most difficult problems facing scholars of religion is how to classify individuals into simplified, yet meaningful categories. Over time a number of classification schemes have been proposed with RELTRAD being the most popular of these methods. However, in recent years the explosion of machine learning has allowed researchers the ability to use algorithms that have no pre-conceived notions or inherent biases to help illuminate problems in the social sciences. Using the technique of k-means clustering to sort individuals into six religious categories, this note offers a slightly different way for scholars to think about religious classification. In the end, the algorithm sees five religious categories, and believes that the distinction between mainline Protestants and Catholics as largely non-existent, while evangelical Protestants are a much more heterogeneous group than has previously been described.

Manuscript

Under Review

Who’s In Charge? Religious Authority Values in Democratic Society

While there is a great deal of heterogeneity in Christian behavior and practice, one unifying aspect of nearly all religious communities is their organizational structure. While religious authority is an essential part of the religious experience, social scientists have only begun to understand how the relationship between clergy and laity shape congregant’s views of their proper roles in democratic society. Using a sample of Christian clergy, this study develops a measure that operationalizes the concept of religious authority. This measure is then compared with the effect of religious conservatism in the context of a number of important components of democratic society including child rearing values, deliberative values, and democratic norms. The results of this analysis indicate that under some conditions religious authority and religious conservatism behave in a similar way, religious authority values represent a distinct and important measurement of religiosity.

 

Manuscript