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Politics and Religion: Virtual Issue 1

Empirical Studies of Religion, Identity, and Nativity

Kiku Huckle, Pace University, USA
Andrea Silva, University of North Texas, USA

Politics and Religion has consistently published studies on how religion mediates the institutions of race and nativity. The literature in this area considers key questions, including: what is the historic role of religion in racial/ethnic and immigration politics? And, how does religion inform the political behavior of people of color? Given the centrality of racial and ethnic politics in the current political realm, this virtual issue of Politics and Religion highlights how scholars of religion and politics incorporate ascriptive characteristics like race and nativity to examine political behavior, institutions, and outcomes. Looking back at this work, two key themes stand out: the role of historical institutional context and on individual political behavior.

Historical Institutional Context and Legacies

The ability of churches and religions in general to define and redefine de jure and de facto policy on immigration and race is fundamental for understanding identity politics today. In some cases, the religious diversity in a nation-state can explain the movement toward restrictive immigration policy over time (Minkenberg 2008). Institutional investigations also show how religious affinities fuel and justify xenophobia and racism in the United States, such as during the “Know Nothing” movement of the 1900s (Ramet and Hassenstab 2013) or the 2016 Presidential Primaries (O’Leary 2016). These investigations explain the conditions under which policy is made, setting the scene for behavioral research on how religion mediates perceptions about and the political behavior of immigrants and people of color.

Religion's Influence on the Individual

Contrary to many denominations’ teachings, religion may have a negative effect on public opinion, such as encouraging a culture war approach to immigration (Haugen 2011). Further, the debated power of religious leaders and religious institutions to impact believers’ political attitudes appears to be contingent on denomination and the racial make-up of congregations (Wallsten and Nteta 2016; Brown et al. 2017). The role of religion in the attitudes and behaviors of immigrants themselves has also long been debated as a function of political incorporation. Articles published in Politics and Religion have highlighted this debate, finding positive support for the role of religion in shaping immigrant political identity (Jiang 2017), increasing immigrants’ sense of belonging (Taylor Gershon, and Pantoja 2014), and the development of Latino immigrant partisanship (Weaver 2015). Importantly, Wong (2015) pushes us to think “beyond the traditional Black-White binary” in revealing how racial identity can mitigate the influence of a Born Again religious identity on policy preferences.


The inclusion of race/ethnicity and immigration dimensions has successfully broadened our understanding of religion and politics beyond the devotion-political participation connection. In addition to furthering research into the racial and nativity distinctions within denominational traditions, scholars could continue to move this literature forward by investigating how non-Christian traditions interact with and impact politics in the United States. As Wong rightly argues, we can learn more by moving beyond the traditional racial/ethnic or nativity binaries (and binaries in general) toward studies that investigate these categories at their intersections.