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2011-2012 Archived Events

Religion in the 2012 Elections
Religion, Science, and Politics
Religion, Immigration, and Politics
Politics, Religion, and Culture Wars
Islamophobia in 2012
Workshop featuring John Schmalzbauer’s work, The Return of Religion on Campus
Religion in the University
Religious Leaders’ Roundtable on Religion and Education
“College-Age Conservatism: How Universities Influence Political Discourse and Styles”
A Conversation with Students and Scholars on Religion and Academic Life
A Conversation on Religion and Conflict Resolution
 

Religion and Politics Symposium

January 25, 2012
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Religion in the 2012 Elections
 religion and politicsTogether with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, the RPLP hosted a panel discussion on the role of religion in the 2012 elections. Panelists included scholars John Green and D. Michael Lindsay, as well as newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. While Green focused on shifts in voting patterns by religious groups, showing that not just religious affiliation but also level of religiosity affects voting behavior, Lindsay's "Ten Myths about Religious Conservatives" challenged misconceptions that the public and the media hold about evangelicals. Pitts, meanwhile, asserted that while religion draws increasing media coverage focused on conflicts over its proper role, as in the so-called "war on Christmas," religion is largely excluded from more substantive issues like policy and injustice. "We're in a moment where faith is ever present in the dialogue," he said, "but where it somehow seems shrunken." Click for the Baker Institute webcast.

Religion and Politics 2Religion, Science, and Politics
As part of an RPLP symposium on religion and politics, Dr. Neal Lane, Professor of Physics at Rice University and former director of the National Science Foundation, delivered a presentation and fielded questions on the interplay of religion and science in the political arena. Lane argued that the common perception of a conflict between science and religion stems from highly publicized debates about a handful of scientific issues, as well as widespread scientific illiteracy among the general public. Further, Lane insisted that "science has become politicized," contending that the tendency to "put politics ahead of science" often puts scientists and the general public at odds. Consistent with the mission of the RPLP, Lane stressed the need for increased dialogue between scientists, political leaders, and voters, especially regarding issues of religious significance. Following the presentation, many of the questions from the audience focused on challenges associated with science education, especially when religious groups are involved with curriculum selection. 

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religion and politics 3Religion, Immigration, and Politics With nearly one-fourth of the U.S. population consisting of immigrants and their children, immigrants have an important role and stake in elections. To explore immigrant voting behavior and the role of immigrants in political processes, RPLP director Elaine Howard Ecklund and Rice sociology professor Michael Emerson presented data from the "Religion, Immigration, and Civic Engagement" study. According to Ecklund, religion plays a crucial role in guiding immigrant voting behavior. "Not only do congregations provide resources through leaders," she said, "but also the opportunity for public forums, which provide platforms that can create motivations, rhetoric, and specific issues that religious people may be inclined to support or oppose." The study confirmed that religion helps immigrants adapt to life in the United States, and in fact that the skills and practical resources associated with religious participation often facilitates civic engagement and political participation- at least for some immigrant groups. At present, only seven percent of eligible immigrants vote, suggesting that the influence of immigrants on political outcomes is likely to rise in the future, and religious participation may be a key to increased political involvement.

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Politics, Religion, and Culture Wars
In a talk entitled, "Examining 'Old' Issues in the Culture Wars: Social Issues, Religion, and the 2012 Election," Dr. Anna Greenberg, a former professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and current research methodologist at the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey research firm, reported current trends in debates over abortion and gay rights- two of the "old" social issues involving religion and politics. Greenberg emphasized that, while the electorate remains polarized among religious and racial lines, specific social issues- like abortion and gay marriage- are decreasingly important factors in voting choices, especially in comparison to economic issues. Meanwhile, in contrast to much of the public dialogue on social issues, opponents often share significant, albeit underemphasized, common ground. For example, many of those on both sides of the abortion debate support an "informed consent" requirement. Interestingly, most Americans (72%) are comfortable holding a personal belief on abortion that differs from that officially adopted by their religious group, suggesting that the authority of religious institutions as arbiters of moral truth may be waning.

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religion and politics 4Islamophobia in 2012
In association with the RPLP's symposium on religion and politics, Dr. M.A. Muqtedar Khan, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware, examined the important and often contentious place of Islam in politics and governance around the world, from the Burqa ban in France to the banning of Minarets in Switzerland. Asserting that Islamaphobia is not just a distant phenomenon, Dr. Khan noted that such fears affect the perspectives and behavior of American voters and politicians alike. For example, in 2000, presidential candidate Al Gore refused to meet with Muslim groups in order to placate Jewish constituents, while in the 2012 Republican debates Herman Caine stated that he would not appoint Muslims to his cabinet. Based on these and other examples, Khan contended that Muslims do not have appropriate representation in the U.S. political process. Muslims, meanwhile, not finding a good political fit, have wavered between Republican and Democratic support, and their future political orientation remains unclear. According to Dr. Khan, the Muslim community, like any religious community, is best understood as a diverse group with varied beliefs and interests, rather than a monolithic group with homogeneous goals. While "mosque centered" Muslims are politically liberal but socially conservative and focused on Middle Eastern foreign policy and social justice, "outside the mosque" Muslims tend to have wider interests, are less socially conservative, and act as political "free agents." Dr. Khan's remarks served as a poignant reminder of the importance of programs like the RPLP, which strives to foster an atmosphere where people of all faiths are full participants in public life.

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Workshop featuring John Schmalzbauer’s work, The Return of Religion on Campus

November 5, 2011

schmalzbauer for book eventsWith input from invited scholars and Houston community members, John Schmalzbauer, the Blanche Gorman Strong Chair in Protestant Studies and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Missouri State University, came away with valuable feedback on his and Kathleen Mahoney's forthcoming book, Religion: A Comeback on Campus. While Schmalzbauer appreciated the "tone and constructiveness" of the event, other participants appreciated the potential for the book to change the way we view religion and its place on university campuses. Events like this help advance the RPLP's goal of generating and facilitating important research on religion and public life. As RPLP Director, Elaine Howard Ecklund, reflected, "there are few chances in the academy to get together a group of people to have positive critique and conversation about a manuscript before it goes out the door." 

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Religion in the University

November 4, 2011
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religion in the university eventThe role of religion in the university is hotly contested today, with some lamenting and others celebrating the general trend towards its marginalization. Before a group of nearly one hundred community members, faculty, and students, George Marsden, Francis. A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, and Julie Reuben, Professor of Education at Harvard University, discussed and often debated religion's place in contemporary higher education. In general Marsden was more sanguine about the value of open religious commitment in universities and classrooms, arguing that universities, as microcosms of religious diversity, provide an opportunity to understand and interact with people of various faiths, and also that the exclusion of religion unfairly preferences secular perspectives. Reuben was more cautious, citing the potential for discrimination in hiring decisions and worrying that academic freedom and open inquiry might be curtailed by religious standards. It was a wonderful example of the type of discussion the RPLP endeavors to facilitate- not that characterized by unanimity of thought, but by thoughtfulness and charity.

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Religious Leaders’ Roundtable on Religion and Education

November 4, 2011

George MarsdenAt Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, religious leaders from various Houston ministries met with professors George Marsden of the University of Notre Dame and John Schmalzbauer of Missouri State University to discuss how churches can better prepare students in their congregations for the transition to college. Participants honed in on the importance of the social dimension of faith and on ways churches can work with universities and campus ministries to make religion accessible to students. The RPLP believes that working with religious leaders to understand the challenges faced by their congregants is key to ensuring that religion is a constructive force in public life.

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“College-Age Conservatism: How Universities Influence Political Discourse and Styles”

November 4, 2011

Amy BinderThe Religion and Public Life Program co-sponsored a roundtable discussion with Amy Binder, an associate professor in the sociology department of the University of California at San Diego. Her presentation addressed work from her forthcoming book Creating Conservatism: How Campuses Shape Political Discourse and Style, co-authored with UCSD graduate student Kate Wood. Binder described the role of culture in shaping the styles of conservative political discourse within two American universities.

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A Conversation with Students and Scholars on Religion and Academic Life

November 4, 2011

RPLP Director Elaine Howard Ecklund and Undergraduate Research Fellow Parker Eudy interviewed George Marsden and John Schmalzbauer at an Intro to the Study of Religion (RELI 101) class, allowing students to pose questions to the visiting scholars.

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A Conversation on Religion and Conflict Resolution

October 14, 2011

Randy ButlerThe RPLP hopes that the student Fellows who work with RPLP will be leaders in promoting productive dialogue about religious issues. Recognizing that conversations about religion are often divisive, the RPLP hosted a workshop in which Fellows interacted with Randy Butler, Executive Director of the Institute for Sustainable Peace. Together, Butler and the students discussed ways researchers can move beyond intellectual understanding of religious conflicts to facilitating meaningful dialogue between groups. Among the ideas discussed was to highlight commonalities, not differences, including commonalities that are not specific to the issue that represents the source of conflict.

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