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.
Time magazine has named Pope Francis its 2013 Person of the Year. The honor, given annually to the world’s most influential newsmaker, comes as little surprise given the global interest among Catholics and non-Catholics alike in the pontiff’s efforts to build a more inclusive Church to serve as a “home for all” and to advocate for those in need.
Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff in Church history, has amassed significant support among one the fastest growing groups in the American Catholic Church — Hispanic Catholics. PRRI’s recent Hispanic Values Survey found more than 8-in-10 (84 percent) Hispanic Catholics in the United States have a favorable view of the pope, while fewer than 1-in-10 (7 percent) hold an unfavorable opinion. The Catholic Church also scored high marks among Hispanic Catholics, with more than 8-in-10 (81 percent) reporting a very favorable or mostly favorable view. However, the pope inspires more intense positive feelings than the Church among Hispanic Catholics, with nearly half (47 percent) reporting a very favorable view of the pontiff compared to 35 percent who say the same for the Catholic Church.
American Catholics overall also hold overwhelmingly positive views of Pope Francis (92 percent have a favorable view), according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. More Catholics favor the pope after his first nine months in office than ever said the same of his two predecessors, even at their peaks of popularity. The new survey also found that among all Americans – including both Catholics and non-Catholics – 62 percent hold favorable views of the Catholic Church, compared to just 30 percent who hold unfavorable views. These numbers put both the pope’s and the Church’s popularity higher than it’s been in at least a decade
But will these early favorable reviews of the pope put more people in the pews? At least for now, research shows no clear bump in Catholic attendance or affiliation.