Sectarianism is problem for religious right political partnerships according to new survey at UCSD

Members of groups that comprise the "religious right" exhibit negative attitudes toward other religious groups on the right, making the building of political coalitions more difficult. In contrast, according to the first national survey of "sectarianism" among various religious traditions, "liberal" religious group members are more inclined to build cooperative political partnerships with those of similar ideological views.

The study, just published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, authored by John H. Evans, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego, concludes, "What may be holding back the religious right from achieving its full potential is that, compared to the groups that comprise the religious left, participants in conservative religious groups do not want the other religious right groups to influence public opinion."

But the least sectarian of the religious right are those who "favor more of role for religious leaders in public life. Evans concludes, "This is good news for supporters of the religious right because, it shows that among conservative church-goers, those who are most supportive of "religiously-based " politics" are the least sectarian of the religious conservatives."

The research is based on analysis of 5,603 opinions from among persons identified as being members of fundamentalist Protestantism, evangelical Protestantism and traditional Roman Catholicism, on the right. The groups on the left are mainline Protestantism, liberal Protestantism, nontraditional Catholicism and liberal Judaism.

The new study seems to contradict the often-expressed claim, from adherents of both the right and the left, that there is a powerful, monolithic coalition of groups "on the right." In fact, some observers had suggested that there would be a "cooperative coalition" where groups on the right would work collaboratively toward political goals. But the Evans study argues that "sectarianism" in groups on the right, defined as "negative attitudes toward religious groups other than one's own," holds back coalition formation on the right.

For example, Evans found that if you ask politically active people who identify as "traditionalist Catholics" which religious groups they want to "have more influence in shaping public opinion on important social issues," they are most likely to pick Jews and mainline Protestants.

They are least likely to pick evangelicals and fundamentalists, despite the fact that these are the groups that traditionalist Catholics are supposedly in the "religious right" with.

The analysis of sectarianism consists of three parts, with Evans first determining which of the liberal and the conservative religious traditions had members who were inclined to think that groups, other than their own, should be influential in the political process. A second analysis found that members of the conservative tradition who favor a larger role for religious leadership in politics was the least sectarian of those examined. Finally, Evans studied the 45 per cent of religious right group members who had been politically active in the year before the polling, finding them to be even more sectarian than the entire population.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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