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Professor awarded book prize

Adriana Pratt | Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Young people today are more accepting of gay marriage, but more opposed to abortion than their parents’ generation.

The “God gap,” or the polarization between the way religious and non-religious constituents vote, has widened over the past four to five years.

Between one-third and one-half of married Americans are in interfaith relationships.

David Campbell, associate professor of political science at Notre Dame, published these findings and others in his 2010 book “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.”

“America has uniquely found a way to accommodate its religious devotion, diversity and tolerance by building bridges across religious lines in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods and in our homes,” Campbell said.

Campbell co-authored the text with Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard University.

The American Political Science Association awarded Campbell and Putnam with the 2011 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award this year. The award is presented annually for the best book on government, politics or international affairs, according to the foundation’s website.

“Religion has always been a constant in American society, but we are living in a period of great religious change,” Campbell said. “Our book speaks to that change.”

Though Americans are becoming more comfortable with people of other religions, Campbell said they are also increasingly pulling away from endorsing a mix of religion and politics.

“The mixture of religion and politics is very tempting for politicians,” Campbell said. “That’s particularly true for Republican politicians. That’s why we are seeing in this presidential race … multiple candidates who speak very openly about their own religiosity and want to be identified as a candidate who is highly religious.”

As religion intermingles with politics, Campbell said Mormon Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman might face difficulty in gaining support from the Evangelical sector in the primary race.

“Especially among Evangelical Christians, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a devout Mormon or not,” Campbell said. “The concern they have [about the Mormon religion] runs deep.”

A Mormon himself, Campbell said that as a member of a religious minority, he was interested in exploring the progression of people’s acceptance of other religions.

“My own family is a good illustration of people building bridges across religions,” Campbell said. “I have many aunts and uncles who are not Mormon.”

Campbell and Putnam began working on the book in 2005, Campbell said. They conducted their first survey in 2006 and completed the study in 2010.

The professors used two primary methods to conduct their research.

“One was the ‘Faith Matters’ survey, which was a large nationally representative telephone survey where we asked people all sorts of stuff about their religions, families and civic involvement,” Campbell said.

Campbell and Putnam also conducted a series of ethnographies, or studies of the customs and cultures of religious congregations across the country.

After collecting the data over a span of five years, “American Grace” was completed. Now, the award-winning book serves as the main text for Campbell’s course called “Religion in American Politics.”

“Basically our initial idea was that we should do a study of religious diversity in America,” Campbell said. “From there, it grew into a much larger project not just about religious diversity, but religion in general.”