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.

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

Forthcoming at the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture

Is Becoming Born-Again a Transformative Experience? Results from Two Sets of Panel Data

The process of becoming a born-again Christian is one that has intrigued social scientists for decades. While sociologists have tried to conceptualize and operationalize how one converts to a new religious experience, many political scientists have used “having a born-again experience” as a way to classify evangelical Protestants on surveys. While there is a great deal of scholarship devoted to understanding how born-again Christians navigate the social and political world, the direct and immediate impact of adopting a born-again status has eluded scholars. Using two different panel surveys that span from 2010-2014 and 2012-2017, this work analyzes how those who convert and de-convert to born-again Christianity change their political and religious behaviors in the wake of the switch. Analysis indicates that conversion and deconversion is relatively rare, occurring in approximately 1 in 10 survey respondents. Results indicate that women, younger Americans, and those with less educations are more likely to change their conversion status. Of those who do make a switch, very few significantly change their political ideology, while shifts in church attendance are more common. These findings could lead scholars to reconsider how respondents view the process of becoming born-again and offer insights into how the average American perceives the process of religious switching.

Manuscript

Under Review

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

How Do LGBT Voters Navigate the Political Landscape? An Analysis of Vote Choice and Public Opinion in 2016 (with Austin Mejdrich)

Exit polls reported by various news organizations provide a snapshot of LGBT voters, which indicates they are generally solid Democrats in the ballot box. However, exit polling does not provide the nuance necessary to describe the full range of how the LGBT community votes and how they perceive social and economic issues. Using the largest random sample survey of LGBT voters ever made publicly available, this research describes a group that is decidedly to the left of the political spectrum, but distinct from self-identified Democrats in several ways. Most notably, people who are both pro-life and LGBT were much more likely to vote for Donald Trump in 2016 than pro-life Democrats. These results indicate that there is a need to better understand the relationship between the LGBT community and abortion opinion, both theoretically and analytically.

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.

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Would Jesus Own A Cat? (Probably Not): How Religion Predicts Pet Ownership in the United States (with Samuel Perry)

Over 60 percent of American adults have some sort of family pet. Though studies have explored the personality and demographic correlates of pet ownership, none have considered whether religious characteristics may influence not only pet ownership in general, but the kind of pet Americans own. Drawing on data from the 2018 General Social Survey, we examine the religious antecedents of pet ownership in general as well as owning particular pets, taking into account various sociodemographic and ideological factors previously associated with owning particular pets (e.g., urban vs. rural residence, political affiliation). While religious tradition and biblical literalism generally do not predict pet ownership, frequent worship attendees and the most conservative evangelicals report owning fewer pets. Religious characteristics also predict Americans’ ownership of particular pets. Most notably, we find a strong, negative association between worship attendance and cat ownership. Following previous research, we conceive of pet ownership as a partial substitute for human interaction. Thus, the more embedded Americans are within a religious community, the less need (or time) they have for pets. Regarding cats in particular, it may be that the more human interaction one has in a religious community corresponds to less need for a cat―arguably the most independent, human-like pet.

Manuscript

Under Review

Thoughts and Prayers: How Members of Congress Use Religious Language (with Brittany Bramlett)

This article analyzes the use of religious language on Twitter by Members of the U.S. Congress. Politicians use various media platforms to communicate about their political agendas and their personal lives. In the United States, religious language is often part of the messaging from politicians to their constituents. This is done carefully and often strategically and across media platforms. With members of Congress increasingly using Twitter to connect with constituents on a regular basis, we want to explain who uses religious language on Twitter , when, and why. Using 1.5 million tweets scraped from members of Congress in April of 2018, we hypothesize that MOCs from both major political parties make use of a ‘religious code’ on Twitter in order to send messages about their own identities as well as to activate the religious identities of their constituents. However, Republicans will likely use the code more extensively, while Democrats will use it more distinctly. Additionally, we expect there to be differences in the ways that MOCs use ‘religious code’ on Twitter that are based in their personal religious, gender, and racial identities.

Manuscript

Under Review