Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
On Thursday night, Romney will accept the GOP’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate. As Dr. Robert P. Jones pointed out earlier this week, Romney will need to talk about religion in his acceptance speech, but discussing his own Mormon faith could be a tricky business. In a piece for NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Dr. Jones explains some of the risks that Romney faces, if he chooses to openly reference Mormonism:
If he starts opening the door to the specifics of Mormon theology, questions about the Book of Mormon versus the Bible, then he’s in very dangerous territory.
Because most Americans don’t have contact with Mormons, they rely on pop culture references like South Park or Big Love as their reference point. But Mormons do have much in common with the values of white evangelical Protestants, one of the Republican Party’s key constituencies. So if Romney can talk about his religion on the level of values, rather than theology, he may be in safer territory.
To listen to the full piece, head to NPR.