Religion and the Republican Candidates: Pulse Check

This summer I’ve been treating myself to the first season of “Friday Night Lights” on DVD, thanks to a gift from my brother, Erik, an English professor at Grinnell College. Maybe he’ll blog someday about the elements of Shakespearean tragedy in this critically-acclaimed TV drama about Texas high school football, where the desperation and desire are as thick as the summer air in an oil field, y’all.

After inhabiting a fictionalized Texan universe for, at times, hours on end, I began to ponder a Rick Perry presidency. If it happens, the good people at Americans United for Separation of Church and State will be among the few Americans guaranteed to have jobs from January 2013-January 2017. Anyway, here’s the pulse check: as the Republican field for 2012 begins to take shape, how much do the candidates’ (or likely candidates’) religious affiliations matter to you? How much should they matter? Where do you sit with Romney, Huntsman, Bachmann, Perry, Palin, and others? Leave a comment—by all means, include links to any articles or clips you recommend for the blog and my classes—and I promise to keep posting from rhetoric-saturated New Hampshire as the campaigns heat up.

In the meantime, check out these numbers about American attitudes toward a Mormon running for president and this short 2009 Daily Show clip of Jon Stewart interviewing Randall Balmer, author of God in the White House, a clip that helps generate animated discussions in my classes on religion and politics. (I ask students, for instance, if they agree with Balmer & Stewart’s ranking of barriers to the presidency, and where “Mormon” and “Muslim” would fall on the students’ lists.) Keep an eye too on Religion Dispatches and the Pew Forum’s continuing religion and politics coverage. Both are excellent resources for teachers, journalists, and anyone else watching the scene.

About Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson teaches religion, ethics, philosophy, and human rights at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH. He is the author of *American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940* (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) and nonfiction essays about Bosnia for the Canadian literary magazine *Numero Cinq*. Born in 1975 in Olean, NY, he earned the Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Virginia, where he specialized in American religious history. He writes, teaches, and lectures about religion in America, popular culture, Mormonism, and Bosnia. He lives in Exeter with his partner, Alexis Simpson, and their two children.
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