My research focuses on the role of religious advocacy groups in the political process. Individual projects have examined the rhetorical and media strategies of these groups, the impact of religious groups on the formation of public policy, and the impact of religious groups on presidential elections. My interest in this topic stems from my own religious beliefs, which affect my view of politics and my approach to the political process. As a political spectator, watching the rise of several powerful and prominent religious advocacy groups in the 1980s and 1990s, I became increasingly interested in the ways in which religious beliefs are represented in the public sphere through organized advocacy groups. This led to my dissertation project, which focused on the ways in which mediated debates over public policies are shaped by religious groups and come to be framed as “moral” issues. Arriving at Gustavus, I continued to pursue questions that emerged during my dissertation research. I first focused on the ways in which religious groups may experience a sense of constraint in terms of the types of arguments they are “allowed” to make given their religious nature. I presented a draft of this research at the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) annual meeting during my first year at Gustavus and the manuscript was accepted for publication in the journal Politics and Religion. Working with Katie Johnson (’07), we expanded this analysis to examine the differences in constraint experienced by religious groups on the left and right. We presented the results of this research at a MPSA conference and at Explorations (sponsored by the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies program).
In the summer of 2007 I received a Research, Scholarship, and Creativity Grant to conduct interviews with leaders of national religious advocacy groups in Washington, D.C. During my time in Washington, I met with leaders of seven different religious advocacy groups. This data was used in another MPSA conference paper, coauthored with Mikka McCracken (’08). A revised version of that paper was accepted for publication in The Journal of Communication and Religion.
My newest project focuses on a local religious advocacy group, the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC). The JRLC was formed in Minnesota in 1970 and is comprised of representatives from the Minnesota Council of Churches, the Minnesota Catholic Conference, The Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Islamic Center. The group advocates on behalf of issues on which all four of these sponsors agree. I decided to study this organization because of its uniqueness and because I thought it would make an interesting case study for a planned book manuscript. I approached Jackie Schwerm (’11) to see if she would be interested in working with me on the project and together we applied for a Presidential Faculty-Student Collaboration Grant to fund our research this summer. This summer we have interviewed JRLC founders, staff, board members, and citizen participants and have also spent time exploring the groups’ archives. My plan is to complete two separate documents with Jackie’s assistance. First, we will write a comprehensive group history for the JRLC for their 40th anniversary celebration. No such document exists and the JRLC staff is excited about our work in this area. Second, I will write a book designed to be used as a supplemental case study in interest group, religion and politics, and state and local politics courses.
In addition to these larger projects, I have also undertaken several related projects. I wrote a chapter on the impact of religion on debates over same-sex marriage for an edited series on religion and public policy. This chapter drew upon some of the data from my dissertation and I took advantage of a January Term course, The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage, to help flesh out my ideas for the chapter. Several of the students offered to read and comment on my draft. I enjoyed being able to tie together my teaching and research interests in that way.
I have written two related chapters on the role of religion and gender in the presidential elections. The first chapter was published in Race, Religion, and the American President (2008) and focuses on the role of religious women in presidential elections from 1976-2004. The second chapter, which was written at the request of the editor of the first volume and has already been submitted to him, focuses on religious women in the 2008 presidential election.
At the request of colleagues in the field of religion and politics (Amy Black and Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College and Douglas Koopman of Calvin College), I wrote an essay on religion and public policy for a book that will combine original essays and primary source documents. Finally, I collaborated with Chris Gilbert (Political Science) and Julie Gilbert (Library) on an article manuscript assessing the impact of an enhanced library component in Analyzing Politics.
As may be evident by my record, I view my role in the profession as being integrally connected to my role as a teacher. I constantly look for ways to involve students in my research so that they will have the opportunity to develop their own research skills and explore the possibility of academic life. I have worked intensively with four students (Katie Johnson ’07, Mikka McCracken ’09, Amy Erickson ’09, and Jackie Schwerm ’11) and have also included other students in various aspects of the research process (Jon Grau ’07 and Sarah Bernardson ’07). I try to share my own research challenges and successes with students as they engage in the research process. For example, I will often bring in copies of my multiple conference paper drafts to my senior seminar. Seeing my pages and pages of markups helps to put the writing process in perspective for the students and to draw them away from their perceived need for a “perfect” first draft. The exercise allows me to discuss the importance of having other people read your work and being self-critical.
The research that I do also helps to inform my teaching through content. Research-related reading on interest groups this spring gave me new ideas for readings for my next Interest Group class. My research on same-sex marriage helped me to draft my Politics of Same-Sex Marriage syllabus. Case studies from my research often turn up in courses such as Public Policy and The American Presidency. In short, it is impossible for me to fully separate my roles as scholar and teacher because they are so complimentary.
In addition to research, writing, and conference presentations I maintain an active role in the profession. I currently serve on the Executive Committee of the Religion and Politics section of the American Political Science Association. This three-member committee serves as a consultant to the president of the section and any changes proposed by the president require the approval of the Executive Committee. I am a member of the American Political Science Association, the Midwest Political Science Association, and Christians in Political Science. I have served as an anonymous reviewer for several journals, including Politics and Religion and Political Research Quarterly and several American Politics textbooks.