Religious studies professors discuss role of religion in the election

Taylor Villescas

>>>CORRECTION:  This year is the first presidential election to not have a protestant candidate on the Republican ticket.

The religious studies department sponsored a lecture about the role of religion in this upcoming election Tuesday.

Amanda Baugh and Mary Jane O’Donnell, both religious studies professors at CSUN, lectured about Mormonism and Evangelicalism, respectively.

While introducing the two speakers to the crowded lecture hall, Rick Talbott, chair of the religious studies department, talked about how people might wonder what role, if any, religion serves in this election.

“There is a separation of church and state, but no separation of religion and politics,” he said.

Dr. Baugh started the discussion with Mormonism. She described the basic history of the religion, which is one of the fastest growing in the nation. Founded in the 1820s in upstate New York by Joseph Smith, Mormonism has been described as being an all-American religion. However, a survey of voters in 2011 revealed that 22 percent of Americans would be unwilling to vote for a Mormon.

Baugh talked about how while Americans “celebrate religious freedom in the abstract,” they often find it harder to follow through with. She described the scope of American religious tolerance as something that is always “in flux.”

She then cited a survey of 2,000 Mormons, in which 68 percent said they were not considered part of America’s mainstream culture and 50 percent said they often faced discrimination.

However, she pointed out that she did not believe Romney’s faith as a Mormon would play a role in the voting booth this November. According to Baugh, discussion regarding Romney’s religion has dropped sharply since he received the nomination of the Republican party.

It was worth noting that this ballot is historical, she pointed out, as this year is the first presidential election to not have a protestant candidate on either party’s ticket.

The next speaker, Dr. O’Donnell agreed, stating that this presidential race is historic in terms of religion in this country. However, the role that religion itself has and will play is “a subtle one.”

She went on to describe the evangelical faith, which is a branch of Christianity that believes in a religious rebirth and spreading the word about their faith. O’Donnell discussed how the evangelical base was invigorated to vote and get involved in politics during the late 1970s, as
a response to the political and social unrest of the 1960s. Following the lead of famous evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell, this sect of the Christian faith became the base for the Republican party and wielded a huge amount of voting power.

Despite their power, there has been a drop in Evangelicals and other Christian voters recently, O’Donnell pointed out. Along with this, there has been a 5 percent increase in the past five years in adults who do not consider themselves to be religiously-affiliated.

O’Donnell said this shift in voting demographics could mean that the evangelical base’s voting power could potentially be cancelled out by non-affiliated voters, or as she referred to them “nons.” She concluded that only time will tell if this will really happen, or if the evangelical voters, who she described as typically being more zealous and dedicated to their causes, will come out on top.

The event concluded with a short Q&A session with the audience.

“I didn’t realize that politics and religion influence each other so much,” said Carolina Garcia-Melo, sophomore sociology major. “They leak out onto pop culture and influence so much.”