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Political identity and religious choice in the USA : a study in reciprocal causation 1972-2004

Patrikios, Stratos (2008) Political identity and religious choice in the USA : a study in reciprocal causation 1972-2004. PhD thesis, University Of Strathclyde.

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Abstract

Recent research in American political behaviour has examined at length the increased closeness of white evangelical Protestants to the Republican Party. These works tend to treat religion as an ‘unmoved mover’ with respect to political contexts, a stable individual attribute that shapes political concerns without being affected by the political process. By doing so, existing scholarship on religious politicization fails to consider two features that are central to this study: the idiosyncratic nature of religiosity in the US, and the autonomous influence of the political process on other social phenomena. The present study sets out to explore the transformation of religious life through its participation in the political process. Could this participation drive some believers closer to the church and others away from it? One expectation would be for believers that disagree with their church’s politics to abandon the church. In a more general sense, what is examined is a reversal of the predominant fear among progressive liberal thinkers: instead of the common preoccupation of how religion can overwhelm liberal democratic politics, the focus here shifts to whether the political involvement of religious constituencies has effects – and of what kind - for religious developments. The theoretical foundation for the thesis is a view of political identification as a form of social identity. Belonging to an ideological or partisan camp imposes a stereotype of that camp and what its members should do, which can extend to what they should do in the religious domain. The argument is examined empirically by modeling American National Election Study panel data. The analysis explores the previously untested possibility that religious and political factors are linked through reciprocal causation at the individual level. Conditional upon religious and temporal context, the findings highlight the role of ideological and partisan affiliations in generating changes in religious behaviour.