Politics and the American clergy: Sincere shepherds or strategic saints?

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Scholars have evaluated the causes of clergy political preferences and behavior for decades. As with party ID in the study of mass behavior, personal ideological preferences have been the relevant clergy literature's dominant behavioral predictor. Yet to the extent that clergy operate in bounded and specialized institutions, it is possible that much of the clergy political puzzle can be more effectively solved by recognizing these elites as institutionally-situated actors, with their preferences and behaviors influenced by the institutional groups with which they interact. I argue that institutional reference groups help to determine clergy political preferences and behavior. Drawing on three ... continued below

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Calfano, Brian Robert August 2007.

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  • Calfano, Brian Robert

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Scholars have evaluated the causes of clergy political preferences and behavior for decades. As with party ID in the study of mass behavior, personal ideological preferences have been the relevant clergy literature's dominant behavioral predictor. Yet to the extent that clergy operate in bounded and specialized institutions, it is possible that much of the clergy political puzzle can be more effectively solved by recognizing these elites as institutionally-situated actors, with their preferences and behaviors influenced by the institutional groups with which they interact. I argue that institutional reference groups help to determine clergy political preferences and behavior. Drawing on three theories derived from neo-institutionalism, I assess reference group influence on clergy in two mainline Protestant denominations-the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Episcopal Church, USA. In addition to their wider and more traditional socializing influence, reference groups in close proximity to clergy induce them to behave strategically-in ways that are contrary to their sincerely held political preferences. These proximate reference groups comprise mainly parishioners, suggesting that clergy political behavior, which is often believed to affect laity political engagement, may be predicated on clergy anticipation of potentially unfavorable reactions from their followers. The results show a set of political elites (the clergy) to be highly responsive to strategic pressure from below. This turns the traditional relationship between elites and masses on its head, and suggests that further examination of institutional reference group influence on clergy, and other political elites, is warranted.

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  • August 2007

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  • Jan. 14, 2008, 11:08 p.m.

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  • Oct. 14, 2008, 7:19 p.m.

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Calfano, Brian Robert. Politics and the American clergy: Sincere shepherds or strategic saints?, dissertation, August 2007; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc3991/: accessed April 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .