Politics in the Parish
The Political Influence of Catholic Priests
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: Georgetown University Press
Series: Religion and Politics series
List of Illustrations
Religion has always played an important role in American politics. Many of the earliest European settlers in the New World were motivated to cross the Atlantic by religious concerns, and the political institutions they established were influenced by their moral and religious convictions. The centrality of religion in American life continued through the development of the colonies and the establishment of the United States as an independent nation.
chapter one: A Theory of Priestly Influence
It is plausible to suspect that Catholic clergy may be important sources of political influence for American Catholics, but there are also reasons to think that the ability of clergy to wield political influence may be sharply limited. It is not the case, for instance, that messages from elites are always received and correctly perceived by those exposed to them. Nor is the importance of religion in American politics self-evident.
chapter two: An Initial Look at Priestly Influence
Even a cursory investigation of the extent to which Catholic priests possess the ability to influence the political attitudes of their parishioners requires two separate types of information. First, one must know something of the political attitudes of (at least a sample of) Catholic parishioners; second, one must know something about the political beliefs of the priests assigned to the parishes to which those parishioners belong. Clearly, this is a high threshold, as most surveys, even those dealing explicitly with the religious dimensions of politics, do not meet these criteria.
chapter three: Priestly Politics in 2004
The results presented and discussed in the previous chapter are consistent with what one would expect to find if clergy influence over parishioners’ political attitudes were in fact taking place. That said, the evidence presented to this point is, for two reasons, insufficient for declaring conclusively that clergy play the politically important role hypothesized by so many scholars of religion and politics. First, the results presented in chapter 2, though suggestive, are also in some instances counterintuitive and confusing.
chapter four: Priestly Politics Confirmed
Chapter 3 concluded with a categorization of the preaching characteristics of the pastors at each of the nine parishes participating in this project. There is no reason to suspect that any of the pastors I spoke with were less than forthright in their descriptions of the way they address various sociopolitical topics.
chapter five: The Influence of Priests on Parishioners’ Politics in 2004
The preceding chapters demonstrate conclusively that the political messages that Catholic parishioners hear from their parish priests vary dramatically depending on where they attend Church. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not (and in what ways) these varying messages have any influence on the political behavior or attitudes of parishioners.
The question of the extent to which American clergy wield significant political influence is an important one. Burgeoning research in the subfield of religion and politics consistently demonstrates that religious factors play an important role in shaping the way Americans approach politics, and research in political communications makes clear that clergy represent an entirely plausible source of influence.
Appendix A: Pastor Interviews
Appendix B: Analysis of Bulletins
Appendix C: 2004 Survey of Priests
Appendix D: Background on 2004 Survey of Parishioners
Appendix E: 2004 Survey of Parishioners
Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2008
Series Title: Religion and Politics series
Series Editor Byline: John C. Green, Ted G. Jelen, and Mark J. Rozell, series editors See more Books in this Series
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