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God Talk in a Digital Age: How Members of Congress Use Religious Language on Twitter

Article
Bramlett, Brittany and Ryan P. Burge
Bramlett, Brittany H., and Ryan P. Burge. 2020. “God Talk in a Digital Age: How Members of Congress Use Religious Language on Twitter.” Politics and Religion: 1–23. doi: 10.1017/S1755048320000231.
Publication year: 2020

This article analyzes the use of religious language on Twitter by members of the U.S. Congress (MOCs). 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 how. Using 1.5 million tweets scraped from members of Congress in April of 2018, we find 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 use the code more extensively and with Judeo-Christian-specific terms. Additionally, we discuss gender effects for the ways MOCs use “religious code” on Twitter

How Many “Nones” Are There? Explaining the Discrepancies in Survey Estimates

Article
Ryan P. Burge
Burge, Ryan P. "How Many Nones Are There?" Review of Religious Research https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-020-00400-7
Publication year: 2020

While there has been a great deal of media focus recently on the rise of those without religious affiliation (also known as the “nones”), there is an underlying issue facing this line of research: different surveys come to completely different conclusions about how many nones actually exist in the United States. Using the General Social Survey (GSS) and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) this work details how each of these instruments measures religious affiliation in a different manner and how that results in an estimate of the nones that diverges by over eight percentage points in 2018. Statistical analysis reveals that the GSS has a much higher share of Protestants who never attend church than that found in the CCES. In addition, the CCES Protestant subsample is more Republican, while the nones in the GSS are more to the left of the political spectrum than the nones in the CCES. Some advice and caution is offered to researchers who are interested in studying the religiously unaffiliated in these two surveys.

Digital Segregation: Gender, Occupation, and Access to Politics

Article
Friesen, Amanda, Ryan Burge, and Kylee Britzman
Friesen, A., Burge, R., & Britzman, K. (2019). Digital Segregation: Gender, Occupation, and Access to Politics. Social Science Computer Review. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439319851164
Publication year: 2019

In the United States, women often show less interest in politics, and under some conditions, perform worse than men on political knowledge tests. In an age where education levels have reached parity, we suggest one of the explanations for gender differences in political engagement might be due to selection of occupation. Past research has shown women and men segregate into different occupations due to early gender socialization, differences in interest, and structural barriers. It is possible that due to these segregation effects, women in traditional female occupations (e.g. education, health care, service work) may have less access to personal internet use and news sources during their work days. Using the 2014 General Social Survey, we create a new occupational typology based on access to the internet to explore whether individuals in certain sectors differ in their political engagement and how these occupations are also divided by gender, race and class. Then we apply the technology use measure to the 2016 American National Election Study and find that technology access on the job does not seem to be related to political knowledge, once we account for education, which offers some insight into the mechanisms by which individuals gain this knowledge. In addition, the interaction between total media consumption and tech use suggests that the gap in political knowledge between men and women is stubbornly persistent.

How Religion Predicts Pet Ownership in the United States

Article
Perry, Samuel and Ryan Burge.
Perry, S.L. and Burge, R.P. (2019), How Religion Predicts Pet Ownership in the United States. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. doi:10.1111/jssr.12637
Publication year: 2019

Over 60 percent of Americans have some sort of family pet. Although studies have explored the personality and demographic correlates of pet ownership, none have considered whether religious characteristics may influence not only pet ownership, 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 a cat or a dog, taking into account factors previously associated with owning certain pets (e.g., urban vs. rural residence, political affiliation). Although 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. We theorize potential mechanisms. On the one hand, certain personality types might simultaneously attract some Americans toward religious participation and away from pets, and cats in particular. Alternatively, to the extent that pet ownership is a partial substitute for human bonding and interaction, Americans more deeply embedded within a religious community may have less need (or time) for pets generally, and specifically more independent “roommate pets,” like cats.

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

Article
Burge, Ryan P. and Miles D. Williams
Burge, Ryan P. and Miles D. Williams. 2019. "Gender in the Pulpit: The Differences in Speaking Style for Men and Women." Journal of Communication and Religion. 42(1). 63-82.
Publication year: 2019

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, female speakers are more likely to use first person pronouns and tentative speech than their male counterparts. Overall, our sentiment analysis finds that women are more likely to use positive words; however, sentiment varies dramatically across the entire arc of the sermon.

Is Social Media a Digital Pulpit? How Evangelical Leaders Use Twitter to Encourage the Faithful and Publicize Their Work

Article
Ryan Burge, Miles Williams
Journal of Religion, Media, and Digital Culture. 8(1): 63-82
Publication year: 2019

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 through the study of traditional modes such as sermons. This study examines how leaders in U.S. evangelicalism take advantage of 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. More specifically, evangelical leaders use their account to encourage and inspire their followers, while also conveying information about upcoming personal projects such as tours and book
releases. In a small number of cases, evangelical leaders do make reference to political issues, but those individuals are ones who have already built a brand based on political commentary. Speaking broadly, the usage of political language by evangelical leaders is rare. The paper concludes with a discussion of how this analysis advances theories of religion and communication

To be of one mind?: integrating an LGB orientation with evangelical beliefs

Article
Burge, Ryan P.
Politics, Groups, and Identities, https://doi.org/10.1080/21565503.2018.1518784
Publication year: 2018

While there are many identities that individuals associate themselves with, none may be more powerful than sexual orientation and religious beliefs. Previous scholarship has described how lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) individuals try to reconcile their sexual orientation with their evangelical theology using the framework of cognitive dissonance, yet these LGB evangelicals have never been assessed in a randomly sampled survey. Using the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study this research describes how LGB evangelicals grapple with the cognitive dissonance that occurs in many facets of their lives. Two issues are analyzed that could tap into their religious identity (abortion) or sexual orientation (gay marriage). The findings indicate that LGB evangelicals are often more liberal than their evangelical counterparts but are more conservative than the LGB community.

Measuring Evangelicals: Practical Considerations for Social Scientists

Article
Ryan P. Burge and Andrew R. Lewis
Burge, Ryan P. and Andrew Lewis. 2018. “Measuring Evangelicals: Practical Considerations for Social Scientists.” Politics & Religion. Forthcoming
Publication year: 2018

Evangelicals garner much attention in polling and public opinion research, yet measuring white evangelicals remains elusive, even opaque. This paper provides 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 scheme, which asks respondents if they consider themselves “born-again or evangelical”. While the affiliation and self-identification schemes are predominant, a practical examination of these approaches has been absent. Using several waves of the General Social Survey and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we compare them. We find almost no statistical differences between the two measurements in prominent demographic, political, or religious factors. Thus, we suggest that for most a simple question about broad religious affiliation followed by a born-again or evangelical self-identification question will suffice.

"An Emergent Threat: Christian Clergy Perceptions of the Emerging Church Movement"

Article
Burge, Ryan P. and Paul A. Djupe
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. DOI: 10.1111/jssr.12324
Publication year: 2017

Although there have been several attempts to study the dimensions of the Emerging Church movement (ECM) through close observation and survey data, we know little about its diffusion into American religious cultures. We undertook this project by attempting to capture whether Christian clergy thought about the movement and how consistently they considered it. Our analysis of survey data from several denominations suggests that the ECM is less well known among the clergy they are reacting against (evangelicals). Opinions turn not on partisan identity, but on religious authority, which is precisely the ground on which the ECM presents its challenge to evangelicalism. In this way, the ECM appears to be following a path paved by the decline of denominationalism

Christian Theology and Attitudes Toward Political and Religious Ideological Groups

Article
George Yancey, Marie A. Einstein, Ryan P. Burge
Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, Volume 12, Article 6
Publication year: 2017

The purpose of this paper is to examine the influence of Christian theology on feelings or attitudes toward liberal and conservative political-ideological groups.  We know how religious affiliations, behaviors, and beliefs in the United States influence voting behavior, political party affiliation and specific issue attitudes, but we do not fully understand how Christian theology influences one’s favorable / unfavorable attitudes to groups across the ideological spectrum.  Using the 2012 ANES data, we test logit models for favorable / unfavorable scores toward four different groups.  While progressive Christians are linked with liberal political ideology and considered more likely to be tolerant of groups that are different than themselves, our results do not support this contention.  Rather, progressive Christians are more likely to exhibit an unfavorable attitude toward groups with political differences while conservative Christians are not.  On the other hand, conservative Christians are more likely to exhibit an unfavorable attitude toward groups with religious differences while progressive Christians are not.

"The Delegational Pulpit? Clergy Identifying as Congregational Political Representatives."

Article
Paul A. Djupe, Ryan P. Burge & Brian R. Calfano
The Delegational Pulpit? Clergy Identifying as Congregational Political Representatives, Representation. 52(1): 43-69. DOI: 10.1080/00344893.2016.1244112
Publication year: 2016

While American clergy have been understood as political actors in some capacity, the precise understanding of their representation has been debated. Some argue that clergy may be seen as fidei defensor, representing a particular set of values and beliefs to the world—a trustee model. Others see the potential for clergy to advocate for the interests of local congregations embedded in particular communities—a delegate model. Neither approach has had concrete evidence to address this question, nor has any work explicitly documented clergy adopting a representational role. To remedy this defect, we polled a sample of clergy in order to gauge the degree to which they are functionally and explicitly considered representatives of their congregations. From these data, 70% have been contacted by congregation members with political concerns and 40% consider themselves or believe they are considered by congregants as representatives to government officials. Several factors increase the probability that clergy take on a representative role including holding a high view of religious authority. Clergy also consider carefully their relationship with the congregation and community before taking on the role of representative, supporting the delegate model.

"Emergent Fault Lines: Clergy Attitudes Toward the Emergent Church Movement"

Article
Ryan Burge and Paul Djupe
Journal of Religious Leadership. 15 (1): 5-30.
Publication year: 2016

With its postmodern foundation and profound critique of established Protestant Christianity, the emergent church movement has attracted relatively few converts but has gained a significant amount of media attention. The Emergent Church offers an opportunity to assess how the movement’s core tenets have diffused into other religious populations. Drawing from a sample of Protestant clergy, we find that diffusion of the emergent church movement is surprisingly low, especially among the targets of the emergent critique – pastors from evangelical backgrounds. But, among those with an opinion, approval of the movement lies along the lines of the emergent critique, garnering support from those with strong democratic norms, political engagement, liberalism, and antagonism for authority in the pulpit and textual interpretation.

“Emergent Church Practices in America: Inclusion and Deliberation in American Congregations”

Article
Ryan Burge, Paul Djupe
Review of Religious Research 57(1): 1-22. DOI: 10.1007/s13644- 014-0157-2
Publication year: 2015

In the last 15 years a small but growing movement organized under the label ‘‘emergent church’’ has begun to help push the church through what many of them believe to be the first careful steps that will usher in a new understanding of Christianity for the twenty-first century. An emergent church model is quite a radical one that prioritizes the agency of those in attendance to determine the beliefs and direction of the church. In this way, emergent churches, at least in theory, are radical deliberative democrats in orientation, which may have profound effects on how the church is run and how members view the church, each other, and society as a result. Using the first dataset known to acquire this identity of Protestant clergy, we assess whether emergent Christian clergy adhere to a different set of religious beliefs, values, and deliberative norms than those in the modern church.

“Truly Inclusive or Uniformly Liberal: An Analysis of the Politics of the Emerging Church.”

Article
Ryan Burge and Paul Djupe
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 53(3): 636-651. DOI: 10.1111/jssr.12129
Publication year: 2014

The emergent church movement has fashioned itself as an alternative for Christians who do not want to walk away from their faith, but feel uncomfortable with the dogmatic conservatism found in mainstream evangelicalism. The emerging church movement has portrayed itself as diverse and inclusive, which is a direct result of evading ingroup-outgroup boundaries. However, despite the desire for a plurality of opinions, the movement’s leaders have been known to take political positions that are largely left-leaning. We use the first dataset known to gather this identity from a sample of Protestant clergy, and assess whether denominationally connected emergent church clergy do, in fact, present a distinctive political profile. Emergent clergy are what they say they are—diverse and inclusive—while they are, on average, more liberal than nonemergent clergy in the sample.

“Using Matching to Investigate the Relationship Between Religion and Tolerance.”

Article
Ryan Burge
Politics & Religion. 6(2): 264-281. DOI: 10.1017/S1755048312000569
Publication year: 2013

Examining religion in the study of political behavior has produced varied results because of a lack of clarity on the conceptualization of religion and a methodology that cannot adequately untangle the multiple meanings of religion. Using the technique of propensity score matching, this work breaks apart the three B’s in a number of analyses in order to properly understand how behavior, belief, and belonging impacts political tolerance. The results of this analysis indicate that a belief in biblical literalism decreases political tolerance, while church attendance often increases tolerance.