Putting Faith in Action in the Tea Party and Faith-Based Community Organizing
Ruth Braunstein, University of Connecticut
Based on ethnographic fieldwork in a (conservative) Tea Party group and a (progressive) faith-based community organizing coalition, I demonstrate that despite all of their differences, these groups shared a number of economic and political concerns. Namely, they felt the economy served a few at the expense of the many, and that ordinary people like them were not included in decisions about how to chart a course back to the world they had been promised. In the wake of the financial crisis, both groups mobilized in order to refocus politicians’ attention on these concerns. There were two common dimensions to their efforts: first, both groups sought to empower ordinary people to become more active and informed citizens capable of intervening in political life; and second, both groups sought to inject their shared religious values into discussions about how to solve the country’s most pressing problems. With regard to this second dimension, I analyze the practical ways in which each group sought to put their faith in action. I find that despite their shared contention that religion (and God) are necessary to the functioning of American society, participants in the groups developed different kinds of individual and collective religious practices, emphasized different religious values, and developed different ways of engaging with religious others. In short, they had quite different styles of putting their faith in action, which reflected different ways of imagining the proper relationship between God, government and citizens. This research not only illuminates how shared political visions can refract into different, even incompatible, political styles, but also complicates and enlarges our prevailing understanding of religion’s role in American public life.
Ruth Braunstein is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. Her research explores the diverse ways in which ordinary citizens across the political spectrum participate in public life, and the complex role of religion in this process. She has studied conservative and progressive social movements, religious advocacy groups, interfaith political coalitions, and debates over same-sex marriage and evolution in public schools. Her research has been published in the American Sociological Review, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, and Contexts, and she is currently working on a book based on a comparative ethnographic study of faith-based community organizing and Tea Party activism. During 2014-2015, she is an American Fellow of AAUW. She is also an Editor-at-Large (and formerly Managing Editor) of The Immanent Frame, a digital forum on secularism, religion and the public sphere, and consults with the Social Science Research Council’s program on Religion and the Public Sphere. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from New York University, an M.A. in sociology from New York University, and a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, where she studied international culture and politics.
This event is part of the Religion and Politics in American Public Life lecture series. Now in its third year, the series is co-coordinated by Professors Courtney Bender, Jean Cohen, and Josef Sorett. It is jointly sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life; the Department of Political Science at Columbia University; and the Department of Religion at Columbia University.
For more information on the series, including past and future speakers, go to ircpl.org/americanpubliclife.