The politics of the people of God : how religious identity and threat structure political attitudes

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2017-12

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Patterson, Jerod Thomas

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Abstract

This dissertation examines how religious group identity and the perception of threat toward one’s religious group affect political attitudes. Drawing on social identity theory, it argues that religion is a meaningful social category to which individuals can develop a psychological attachment. This enables individuals to locate themselves within their social and political contexts, and also to perceive threats to their religious group, which can elevate the salience of their religious identity and alter religion’s causal impact on politics. This amends the literature’s predominant understanding of religion’s politically relevant facets by accounting for religion as a social identity. This also enables a more dynamic conceptualization of religion as responsive to changing circumstances in the political environment. Among the dissertation’s contributions, it develops reliable survey measures of religious identity. Using these measures, it establishes the relationship between religious identity and threat, showing threat and religious identity to have independent and statistically significant effects on political attitudes. It also finds threat to have a moderating effect on religious identity, which matters more for those with weaker religious identities than for those with stronger ones. Finally, it finds that the moderating effect of threat on religious identity among Republicans (as with the general population) is felt the strongest by those with weaker religious identities and decreases in magnitude as religious identity strengthens. However, the inverse is true for Democrats, with threat’s greatest moderating effect being seen among those with stronger religious identities. By viewing religion as a social identity, this dissertation explores the social and cognitive processes that make religion such a powerful political force, which helps to better explain the political consequences of religious division during a time of growing religious pluralism and demographic change.

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