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Religion, Identity, and Civility in the Age of Trump

Sun, September 1, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton, Gunston East

Session Submission Type: Full Paper Panel

Session Description

Does religious participation moderate white Americans’ attitudes about race, immigration, and identity, or does it reinforce feelings of difference and foster resentment toward out groups? This question is an old one, but it took on new urgency in November 2016, when exit polls showed that devout white believers had overwhelmingly backed Donald Trump for President. At first glance, Trump’s popularity with religious voters seemed to confirm the view that religiosity breeds suspicion and mistrust more often than it fosters toleration and dialogue. But some scholars have begun to challenge this interpretation. In October 2018, for example, Emily Ekins published an op-ed in the New York Times (a summary of a longer research paper) arguing that, among Trump voters, religious attendance was strongly correlated with warmer feelings toward racial and religious minorities and with liberal stances on issues such as immigration. In short, churchgoing Trump voters were far more tolerant of difference than their secular counterparts.

Shortly after Ekins’ work appeared in print, however, Paul Djupe and Ryan Burge published a rebuttal pointing out that churchgoing Trump voters, despite their professed racial liberalism, were actually more supportive of the President now than at the time of the 2016 election. Moreover, Djupe and Burge showed that secular Trump voters were far more likely than their religious counterparts to express regret concerning their votes in 2016. Although the religious voters examined by Ekins may well have been sincere in their expressions of racial liberalism, Djupe and Burge concluded that they had clearly subordinated their humanitarian religious values to their identities as partisan Republicans – or else that their expressions of racial liberalism were socially desirable representations that did not reflect the respondents’ true attitudes.

Hence, the question of religiosity’s role in fostering (or moderating) white resentment toward out groups remains very much unresolved. In an effort to advance the debate, this panel brings two of the original participants – Ekins and Djupe – together with six other political scientists working at the intersection of religion and identity politics. Ekins will present a paper that expands on and refines her original argument. Djupe and two co-authors (Andrew Lewis and Anand Sokhey) will present a paper examining the relative significance of religiosity and partisanship in fostering support for “Christian nationalism.” John Compton will examine how religious institutions serve to mediate the relationship between religious participation and racial conservatism (or liberalism). Melissa Deckman will investigate whether white evangelicals hold distinct views concerning the norms that ought to guide public discourse. Finally, Janelle Wong and Ben Gaskins, two scholars who have published extensively on these questions, will act as chair and discussant, respectively.

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