Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-684899dbb8-662rr Total loading time: 0.218 Render date: 2022-05-28T23:34:10.765Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

American Constitutional Faith and the Politics of Hermeneutics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 July 2019

Andrew R. Lewis*
University of Cincinnati
William D. Blake
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Stephen T. Mockabee
University of Cincinnati
Amanda Friesen
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Andrew R. Lewis, University of Cincinnati. E-mail:


As more debates in American politics become constitutional questions, effective citizens must engage in constitutional interpretation. While most Americans venerate the Constitution as a part of a national, civil religion, levels of constitutional knowledge are also very low. In this paper, we analyze how ordinary Americans approach the task of constitutional interpretation. An analysis of two cross-sectional surveys indicates constitutional hermeneutics are a product of political factors, religious affiliation, and biblical interpretive preferences. We also present the results of a survey experiment where the manipulation of a clergy's interpretation of a biblical passage affects how respondents interpret both scripture and the Constitution, providing a potential causal mechanism for learning how to engage in hermeneutics.

Copyright © Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Amar, Akhil R. 1989. “Civil Religion and Its Discontents.” University of Texas Law Review 67(5): 11531171.Google Scholar
Anderson, David J., and Lau, Richard R.. 2018. “Pay Rates and Subject Performance in Social Science Experiments Using Crowd sourced Online Samples.” Journal of Experimental Political Science 5(3): 217229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baybeck, Brady, and McClurg, Scott D.. 2005. “What Do They Know and How Do They Know It? An Examination of Citizen Awareness of Context.” American Politics Research 33(4): 492520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berinsky, Adam J., Huber, Gregory A., and Lenz, Gabriel S.. 2012. “Evaluating Online Labor Markets for Experimental Research:'s Mechanical Turk.” Political Analysis 20(3): 351368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brooks, John W., and Prysby, Charles L.. 1991. Political Behavior and the Local Context. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
Brown v. Allen. 344 U.S. 443 1953.Google Scholar
Buhrmester, Michael, Kwang, Tracy, and Gosling, Samuel D.. 2011. “Amazon's Mechanical Turk: A New Source of Inexpensive, Yet High-Quality, Data?Perspectives on Psychological Science 6(1): 35.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bullock, John G. 2011.“Elite Influence on Public Opinion in an Informed Electorate.” American Political Science Review 105(3): 496515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burge, Ryan P., and Lewis, Andrew R.. 2018. “Measuring Evangelicals: Practical Considerations for Social Scientists.” Politics & Religion 11(4): 745759.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Caldeira, Gregory A. 1991. “Courts and Public Opinion.” In The American Courts, eds. Gates, J. and Johnson, C..Washington, DC: CQ Press, 303–334.Google Scholar
Calfano, Brian R. 2009. “Choosing Constituent Cues: Reference Group Influence on Clergy Political Speech.” Social Science Quarterly 90(1): 88102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Calfano, Brian R., Michelson, Melissa R., and Oldmixon, Elizabeth A.. 2017. A Matter of Discretion: The Politics of Catholic Priests in the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
Calfano, Brian R., Oldmixon, Elizabeth A., and Gray, Mark. 2013. “Strategically Prophetic Priests: An Analysis of Competing Principal Influence on Clergy Political Action.” Review of Religious Research 56(1): 121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Calfano, Brian Robert, and Djupe, Paul A.. 2009. “God Talk: Religious Cues and Electoral Support.” Political Research Quarterly 62(2): 329339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Calvert, Randall L. 1985. “The Value of Biased Information: A Rational Choice Model of Political Advice.” Journal of Politics 47(2): 530555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E., and Stokes, Donald E.. 1960. The American Voter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Carmines, Edward G., and Kuklinski, James H.. 1990. “Incentives, Opportunities, and the Logic of Public Opinion in American Political Representation.” In Information and Democratic Processes, eds. Ferejohn, J. and Kuklinski, J.. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 240–268.Google Scholar
Carsey, Thomas M., and Layman, Geoffrey C.. 2006. “Changing Sides or Changing Minds? Party Identification and Policy Preferences in the American Electorate.” American Journal of Political Science 40(2): 464477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cillizza, Chris. 2017. “Americans Know Literally Nothing about the Constitution.” CNN. September 13, 2017: Scholar
Claassen, Ryan L. 2015. Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans? Party Activists, Party Capture and the “God Gap”. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Converse, Philip E. 1964. “The Nature and Belief Systems of Mass Publics.” In Ideology and Discontent, ed. Apter, D.. New York: Free Press, 206–261.Google Scholar
Cooper v. Aaron. 358 U.S. 1 1958.Google Scholar
Coppock, Alexander. 2019. “Generalizing From Survey Experiments Conducted on Mechanical Turk: A Replication Approach.” Political Science Research and Methods 7(3): 613628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crawford, Sue E., and Olson, Laura R.. 2001. Christian Clergy in American Politics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Djupe, Paul A., and Gilbert, Christopher P.. 2003. The Prophetic Pulpit: Clergy, Churches, and Communities in American Politics. Lanham, MD: Rowman& Littlefield.Google Scholar
Djupe, Paul A., and Gilbert, Christopher P.. 2009. The Political Influence of Churches. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Djupe, Paul A., and Gwiasda, Gregory W.. 2010. “Evangelizing the Environment: Decision Process Effects in Political Polarization.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Relgion 49(1): 7386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Djupe, Paul A., and Lewis, Andrew R.. 2015. “Solidarity and Discord of Pluralism: How the Social Context Affects Interest Group Learning and Belonging.” American Politics Research 43(2): 394424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eskridge, William N. Jr., and Ferejohn, John. 2001. “Super-Statutes.” Duke Law Journal 50(5): 12151276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ewick, Patricia, and Silbey, Susan S.. 1998. The Common Place of Law: Stories From Everyday Life. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fetzer, Joel S. 2001. “Shaping Pacifism: The Role of the Local Anabaptist Pastor.” In Christian Clergy in American Politics, eds. Crawford, Sue E. and Olson, Laura R.. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 177187.Google Scholar
Goren, Paul, Federico, Christopher M., and Caul Kittlison, Miki. 2009. “Source Cues, Partisan Identities, and Political Value Expression.” American Journal of Political Science 55(4): 805820.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Green, Donald P., Palmquist, Bradley, and Schickler, Eric. 2002. Partisan Hearts and Minds: Political Parties and the Social Identities of Voters. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Greene, Jamal, Persily, Nathaniel, and Ansolabehere, Stephen. 2011. “Profiling Originalism.” Columbia Law Review 111(2): 356418.Google Scholar
Guth, James L., Green, John C., Kellstedt, Lyman A., Smidt, Corwin A., and Poloma, Margaret M.. 1997. The Bully Pulpit: The Politics of Protestant Clergy. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.Google Scholar
Hockett, Jeffrey D. 1996. New Deal Justice: The Constitutional Jurisprudence of Hugo L. Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert H. Jackson. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
Holman, Mirya R., and Shockley, Kristin. 2017. “Messages From Above: Conflict and Convergence of Messages to the Catholic Voter From the Catholic Church Hierarchy.” Politics & Religion 10(4): 840861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Horton, John J., Rand, David G., and Zeckhauser, Richard J.. 2011. “The Online Laboratory: Conducting Experiments in AReal Labor Market.” Experimental Economics 14(3): 399425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Huckfeldt, Robert, and Sprague, John. 1995. Citizens, Politics, and Social Communications: Information and Influence in an Election Campaign. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hunter, James D. 1992. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Control the Family, Art, Education, Law, and Politics in America. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Jelen, Ted G. 2003. “Catholic Priests and the Political Order: The Political Behavior of Catholic Pastors.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Relgion 42(4): 591604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kalscheur, Gregory A. 2005. “Christian Scripture and American Scripture: An Instructive Analogy?Journal of Law & Religion 21(1): 101142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Keck, Thomas M. 2010. The Most Activist Supreme Court in History: The Road to Modern Judicial Conservatism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Kellstedt, Lyman A., Green, John C., Guth, James L., and Smidt, Corwin E.. 1996. “Grasping the Essentials: The Social Embodiment of Religion and Political Behavior.” In Religion and the Culture Wars: Dispatches From the Front, eds. Green, John C., Guth, James L., Smidt, Corwin E. and Kellstedt, Lyman A.. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 174192.Google Scholar
Kramer, Larry D. 2004. The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Kraybill, Jeanine E. 2019. One Faith, Two Authorities: Tension Between Female Religious and Male Clergy in the American Catholic Church. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
Kunda, Ziva. 1990. “The Case for Motivated Reasoning.” Psychological Bulletin 108(1): 480498.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Layman, Geoffrey. 2001. The Great Divide: Religious and Cultural Conflict in American Party Politics. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Leege, David C., and Welch, Michael R.. 1989. “Religious Roots of Political Orientations: Variations among American Catholic Parishioners.” Journal of Politics 51(1): 137162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeper, Thomas J., and Slothuus, Rune. 2014. “Political Parties, Motivated Reasoning, and Public Opinion Formation.” Political Psychology 35(1): 129156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lenz, Gabriel S. 2012. Follow the Leader? How Voters Respond to Politicians’ Performance and Policies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Levinson, Sanford. 1988. Constitutional Faith. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Lewis, Andrew R., Djupe, Paul A., Mockabee, Stephen T., and Wu, Joshua S.. 2015. “The (Non) Religion of Mechanical Turk Workers.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 54(2): 419428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lincoln, Abraham 2008 [1861]) “First Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln.” The Avalon Project: (accessed on August 12, 2014).Google Scholar
Lund, Christopher C. 2009. “Scriptural Interpretation and Constitutional Interpretation: An IntroductionMichigan State Law Review 2009(1): 273274.Google Scholar
Lupia, Arthur, and McCubbins, Matthew D.. 1998. The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Need to Know? New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
McDaniel, Eric. 2008. Politics in the Pews: The Political Mobilization of Black Churches. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McKenzie, Brian D., and Rouse, Stella M.. 2012. “Shades of Faith: Religious Foundations of Political Attitudes among African Americans, Latinos, and Whites.” American Journal of Political Science 57(1): 218235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mondak, Jeffrey J. 1991. “Substantive and Procedural Aspects of Supreme Court Decisions as Determinants of Approval.” American Politics Quarterly 19(2): 174188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mondak, Jeffrey J. 1992. “Institutional Legitimacy, Policy Legitimacy, and the Supreme Court.” American Politics Quarterly 20(4): 457477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Murphy, Cornelius M. 1997.“Justice Scalia and the Confrontation Clause: A Case Study in Originalist Adjudication of Individual Rights.” American Criminal Law Review 34(3): 1243.Google Scholar
Murphy, Walter F. 1991. “Civil Law, Common Law, and Constitutional DemocracyLouisiana Law Review 52(1): 91136.Google Scholar
Pelikan, Jarislov. 2004. Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Popkin, Samuel L. 1994. The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Publius 2008a [1788]) “The Federalist Papers: No. 46”. The Avalon Project: (accessed on August 12, 2014).Google Scholar
Publius 2008b [1788]) “The Federalist Papers: No. 49.” The Avalon Project: (accessed on August 12, 2014).Google Scholar
Putnam, Robert D., and Campbell, David E.. 2010. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
This Is Spinal Tap, VHS 1984 Los Angeles, MGM.Google Scholar
Roach, David. 2016. “Scalia's Legal Views Said to Buttress Christianity”. Baptist Press. February 16, 2016. (accessed on February 16, 2016).Google Scholar
Rosen, Jeffrey. 1994. “The Forgotten Formalist.” The New Republic. December 4, 1994. (accessed on June 20, 2015).Google Scholar
Sigelman, Lee, and Zeng, Langche. 2000. “Analyzing Censored and Sample-Selected Data with Tobit and Heckit Models.” Political Analysis 8(2): 167182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schmidt, Christopher W. 2010. “Popular Constitutionalism on the Right: Lessons From the Tea Party.” Denver University Law Review 88(3): 523–57.Google Scholar
Smidt, Corwin. 2003. “Clergy in American Politics.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42(4): 495499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smith, Gregory Allen. 2008. Politics in the Parish: The Political Influence of Catholic Priests. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
Smith, Gregory A., Claire Gecewicz, Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac, and Hackett, Conrad. 2018. “Comparing the RELTRAD and Born-Again/Evangelical Self-Identification Approaches to Measuring American Protestantism.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 57(4): 830847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sniderman, Paul M., Brody, Richard A., and Tetlock, Philip E.. 1991. Reasoning and Choice: Explorations in Political Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sobel, Joel. 1985. “A Theory of Credibility.” Review of Economic Studies 52(4): 557573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steensland, Brian, Robinson, Lynn D., Wilcox, W. Bradford, Park, Jerry Z., Regnerus, Mark D., and Woodberry, Robert D.. 2000. “The Measure of American Religion: Toward Improving the State of the Art.” Social Forces 79(1): 291318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Taber, Charles, and Lodge, Milton. 2006. “Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs.” American Journal of. Political Science 50(3): 755769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tushnet, Mark. 2000. Taking the Constitution Away From the Courts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tushnet, Mark. 2006. “Popular Constitutionalism as Political Law.” Chicago-Kent Law Review 81(3): 9911106.Google Scholar
Wald, Kenneth D., and Calhoun-Brown, Allison. 2011. Religion and Politics in the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
Wald, Kenneth D., Owen, Dennis E., and Hill, Samuel S.. 1988. “Churches as Political Communities.” American Political Science Review 82(2): 531548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Washington, George. 2008 [1796]). “Farewell Address.” The Avalon Project. (accessed on August 12, 2014).Google Scholar
Wuthnow, Robert. 1989. The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith Since World War II. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Zaller, John. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: File

Lewis et al. supplementary material

Lewis et al. supplementary material

Download Lewis et al. supplementary material(File)
File 240 KB

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

American Constitutional Faith and the Politics of Hermeneutics
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

American Constitutional Faith and the Politics of Hermeneutics
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

American Constitutional Faith and the Politics of Hermeneutics
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *