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The Political Activities of Religious Congregations in the United States

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In recent decades, much research has focused on how religious congregations affect individuals' political participation. However, only scant attention has been paid to examining the various ways in which religious congregations engage in political activism as formal organizational entities. Using data from the 1998 National Congregations Study (NCS), a survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,236 religious congregations, we begin to fill this gap in our knowledge about religion and politics. We report the rates at which congregations engage in a broad range of political activity, and we examine variations in this activity among major religious traditions. We emphasize two basic findings. First, although in absolute terms congregations' levels of political activism seem rather low, relative to other nonpolitical organizations they engage in politics in substantial numbers. Second, there are qualitative rather than quantitative differences in political activity across religious traditions. Religious traditions specialize in different modes of political participation, a fact that is obscured when attention is focused solely on the political activities of conservative religious groups.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 2: University of Arizona

Publication date: 2003-06-01

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