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.
Next month, the College of Cardinals will select a new pope. Their choice will help shape the trajectory of the Catholic Church, which has seen significant global demographic shifts over the past century, as well as tensions about the role of tradition and modern culture. In his latest column for Figuring Faith, his Washington Post blog, PRRI CEO Dr. Robert P. Jones tackles the difficult question of what American Catholics want from the new pope:
In the coming weeks, debates over next pope will be not only about the person who will embody the office but about how the church will wrestle with shifting demographics and the relationship between tradition and modern culture. A look at these shifts and tensions among American Catholics provides a microcosm into the larger global dynamics at play.
First, the Catholic Church has been experiencing significant demographic and geographic transformations over the last century. In the American context, the demographic changes began relatively recently. In 1990, nearly 8-in-10 (78 percent) Catholics were white, while less than 1-in-5 (14 percent) were Hispanic. Today, less than two-thirds (63 percent) of Catholics are white, while nearly 3-in-10 (29 percent) Catholics are Hispanic. In other words, in the span of two decades, the ratio of white to Hispanic Catholics has dropped from 5-to-1 to 2-to-1. This shift has also had considerable impact on the Catholic political engagement, given the decidedly different profiles of white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics: in the 2012 election, 75 percent of Hispanic Catholics voted for Barack Obama, while 59 percent of white Catholics voted for Mitt Romney.
To read the full column, head to Figuring Faith.