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.
In just a few weeks, the College of Cardinals will choose the next pope, following the resignation of current Pope Benedict XVI at the end of the month. As the Cardinals deliberate over the next leader of the world’s largest denomination, what do Americans think about the Catholic Church’s public policy stances, and how many believe the Church should preserve traditional beliefs and practices?
Our new graphic shows that majorities of Catholics – including those who attend church most frequently – believe that in its statements about public policy, the Church should focus more on social justice issues, rather than abortion and the right to life. And while a majority of Catholics agree that the Church should adjust its beliefs and practices in light of modern circumstances or adopt modern beliefs and practices, there are some divisions according to frequency of attendance.