Research in Europe

Territory and the Divine: The Intersection of Religion and National Identity

Despite patterns of secularization across Europe, religion continues to exert influence. Besides theological belief, religion is deeply integrated into daily life as a social institution and marker of who belongs in a community and who does not. Linear mixed effects analysis of the 2016 European Social Survey (ESS) demonstrates that secular individuals and those in minority religious groups have weaker national identity than individuals in the country’s historically majority religion. The effect of affiliation with the majority religion on national identity also holds for secular individuals who grew up in the majority religion. Overall influence of religious importance is waning, except among Muslims, which suggests that religion’s socio-political power lies in its social identities more than devout practice in the contemporary European context. The findings of this study further advance understandings of the ways that religion reinforces or conditions national identity in so-called ‘secularizing societies’.

2022. West European Politics. Dissertation article.

Religion Policy and Subnational Identity Construction

Clashes between religious and secular institutions have contributed to the structure of political competition well into the 21st century. Yet subnational regions did not experience the secular-clerical cleavage in the same way as states. Historical experience with overlapping secular-clerical and center-periphery cleavages has shaped how (sub)national communities approach the relationship between religion and territorial identity today. This essay builds a theory of the strategic use of religion to strengthen subnational identity using the cases of Alsace-Moselle and Catalonia. I argue that the
historical experience of intersecting secular-clerical and center-periphery cleavages-coupled with repressive state construction of a unified national identity-has created a contemporary political opportunity structure for subnational elites to leverage religion policy to strengthen community identity and obtain authority devolution.

Dissertation article. Under review. Presented at the 2022 European Union Studies Association conference, Miami, Florida.

Research in the United States

Christian Nationalism and Resistance to Humanitarian Appeals: The Case of Refugee Resettlement

Christian doctrine entreats followers to welcome foreigners, as they were foreigners in Egypt (Exodus 23:9). Despite this, attitudes towards refugees vary across Christians in the United States. I argue that differences in attitudes towards refugees reflect the way individuals manage competing considerations of Christian nationalism and humanitarianism. Using a vignette survey experiment, I find that individuals are more willing to resettle and integrate Christian refugees than Muslim ones, and that Christian nationalism reduces an individual’s willingness to resettle refugees. However, the effect of Social Dominance Orientation is even greater. The findings of this study enrich our understanding of how Christian nationalism undermines support for marginalized groups. Finally, this study suggests that humanitarian appeals can, at least in the short-term, mitigate the impact of Christian nationalism by evoking sympathy.

Dissertation article. To be presented at the 2022 Society for the Social Scientific Study of Religion conference, Baltimore, Maryland.

Strategic Political Talk in Religious Contexts

In a period of growing elite and mass polarization in the United States, discussing politics can be risky, especially for civil society leaders such as pastors, who strive for organizational unity and growth despite other community tensions. As opinion leaders, religious leaders seek to guide their congregations on matters related to morality, worldview, and members’ everyday lives, which can be either explicitly or implicitly tied to the politics that are causing social divisions today. I argue that religious leaders—motivated by institutional loyalty and desires for group belonging and perceived competence—use their imperfect observations of congregation norms and intra-group dynamics to strategically determine whether to discuss various political topics. Using co-authored original survey data from Protestant pastors in North Carolina, I find pastors are influenced by their congregation’s norms of political talk across subject areas, while the pastor’s own comfort level with the subject is most influential for topics related to sex and relationships. Further I find differences in political topics discussed at church based on the pastor’s partisan identity, particularly as they navigate subjects related to former president Donald Trump such as election integrity and QAnon conspiracies. The findings of this research are important for building our understanding of how religious institutions influence politics via local-level opinion leaders at a time when Christians are divided over Christian nationalism and the appropriate roles for religion in American democracy.

To be presented at the 2022 Society for the Social Scientific Study of Religion conference, Baltimore, Maryland.