The Political World of the Clergy

The Political World of the Clergy

The Political World of the Clergy

The Political World of the Clergy


This study examines the role of religion in American politics. It begins with the assumption that there exist multiple democratic theories, and that religion has a different role to play in each. It compares consensus theories of American political culture, and dualistic theories of political mobilization, and accounts, which emphasize the diversity of the American citizenry. The question of how religious leaders view their political roles is the work's main focus. The major part of the study consists of interviews with nearly thirty Protestant ministers and Roman Catholic clergy concerning their conceptions of the relationship between the sacred and the political. These conceptions are then related to the various theories of democratic political culture, with the conclusion that each of three traditions (Roman Catholicism, mainline Protestantism, and Evangelical Protestantism) embodies to some extent one of the models of democratic politics.


This book addresses two questions. First, how should religion affect politics in the United States? Second, how does religion interact with politics at the local level? Specifically, this volume contains an examination of the role of clergy as political leaders in one midwestern community.

The normative inquiry is complicated by the fact that there is no general agreement about the essential characteristics of American democracy at either the scholarly or the popular levels. While most Americans would agree that the United States is a generally successful democratic regime, we have some difficulty explaining our apparent success. Indeed, church-state relations occupy a prominent place in the field of Constitutional law precisely because we are, as a people, uncertain about the variables that make the American regime possible, and are therefore uncertain about the role of religion in the political realm.

My approach is to consider a variety of approaches to democratic theory in examining the role of religion in American politics. My theoretical point of departure is to assume that the success or failure of a democratic regime is in large part determined by the social characteristics of the citizenry. This assumption leads to several different descriptions of democratic politics in the United States, depending on the number and composition of politically relevant groups. Do we owe our success to a consensus on fundamental principles, or are we strengthened by our (religious) diversity? Conversely, we might ask if some elite group is undermining democracy as we would like to understand the term.

This normative inquiry, in turn, provides a focus for the empirical work contained in the middle three chapters of this book. In each, the words of clergy from a particular theological tradition are examined to determine the type and extent of political leadership that . . .

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