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Two Approaches to Religion and Politics: Moral Cosmology and Subcultural Identity

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We explore two competing approaches to internal religious divisions and their political consequences. The “moral cosmology” approach focuses on religious worldviews. It juxtaposes the religiously orthodox to modernists, arguing that the former are theologically communitarian in belief while the latter are individualistic. The religiously orthodox worldview (relative to modernists) is posited to lead to politically conservative stances on cultural issues of abortion, sexuality, and family but politically liberal stances on economic issues. In contrast, the “subcultural identity” approach focuses on identity rather than worldview. According to this approach, self-identified evangelicals and fundamentalists are expected to be more politically conservative on both cultural and economic issues when compared to mainline or liberal Protestants. Through analyses of the 1998 GSS, which allows operationalization of the two approaches and their extension to Catholic identities, we find that cosmology and identity are associated, but they have independent—and sometimes opposite—effects on Americans’ political beliefs.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Sociology Florida State University

Publication date: 2009-12-01

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