Research at the Intersection of Politics & Religion

Politics and Public Affairs
May 5, 2014

Paul Djupe, associate professor of political science, is fascinated by religion and its effects on the way people think and act. He likes to study religion and churches as small microcosms, which contain all the facets of larger societies.

In his latest book, “God Talk: Experimenting with the Religious Causes of Public Opinion,” Djupe and co-author Brian Calfano explore some basic questions about the influence religion plays on the field of politics. Their research especially focuses on people who identify themselves as religious.

Djupe first asks: “Are religious people influenced by messaging outside their religion?” For his research, Djupe exposed people to stands about polarizing topics such as global climate change and immigration. Participants read the statements and were asked a few simple questions about the topic. With cooperation from houses of worship, he took surveys of people while they were in their worship space.

What emerged was interesting. It seems that people are impressionable.

“The ability to think critically about issues from all points of view prepares them for work in all fields.”

When people read the statements and answered the questions, it didn’t matter what kind of house of worship they attended; being exposed to a predetermined value set influenced their answers to the same degree.

His second avenue of research examined, “Are people swayed by covert religious messages placed within a larger nonreligious message?”

This question was raised when observers noticed “drop-in” phrases, which had been filtered into larger public oral statements by President George W. Bush. The phrases, such as “wonder working power” or “lost lamb,” were unobtrusive to the average listener, but were meant to engage members of evangelical churches, reminding them that Bush was “one of them.”

The covert method of conversation was a way of keeping in touch with that constituency, while not alienating the general population with polarizing political stands on such issues as abortion and gay marriage.

Djupe found that indeed, targeted audiences picked up on those hidden messages and identified with the speaker. In addition, non-targeted audiences generally ignored them.

“We found that religion isn’t something that causes people to dig into one view,” says Djupe. “Even people strongly aligned with a specific point of view can be moved off that mark with powerful, targeted religious messaging.”

Political science students Chelsea Back ’13 and Samantha Webb ’09 coauthored chapters in Djupe’s book, and he also cites research with a current colleague, Jacob Neiheisel ’07. Neiheisel took several classes from Djupe and has returned to Denison as a visiting assistant professor of political science.

“Students in political science learn about parts of society they haven’t had exposure to,” says Djupe. “They get a deep exposure to other ways of thinking – including those they don’t necessarily agree with. This is valuable as they move past their undergraduate work and into the next phase of their careers. The ability to think critically about issues from all points of view prepares them for work in all fields.”

The Christian Post recently referenced Djupe's study in an article titled: “What Makes Young Evangelicals Less Conservative? Results of New Study May Surprise You”

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