Mormonism & American Politics: Mitt, Mormonism, and the Media
Mitt Romney's run for the White House raises perennial questions about the place of religion in the public square and offers scholars an interesting occasion to reconsider the relationship between religion and American politics. The media has made much of Romney's religion and so have some sectors of the American public. What can we learn from public attitudes about Mormonism? Are the religious beliefs of a political candidate relevant to serving in office, and if so, how? Are there political implications to Mormonism? Do the careers of other Mormon politicians shed any light on this question? In what ways is Mormonism politically comparable to other religious groups?- Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University
Russell Arben Fox
Russell Arben Fox is assistant professor of political science and director of the Political Science program at Friends University in Wichita, KS. He received his Ph.D. in Political Theory from Catholic University of America. He has published articles on religion, education, American political thought, East Asian political thought, communitarianism, and nationalism in Polity, The Review of Politics, Philosophy East and West, American Behavioral Scientist, Theory and Research in Education, and The Responsive Community. He has been an active participant in Mormon internet symposiums and blogging since 2003.
Robin H. Rogers-Dillon is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY) and the CUNY Graduate Center. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology form the University of Pennsylvania in 1998. Her primary areas of research have been poverty, politics, and social policy. From 1998- 2000, Dr. Rogers-Dillon was a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Scholar at Yale University. In 1995-96, she served in Washington, D.C. as a Congressional Fellow on Women and Public Policy.
She is the author of The Welfare Experiments: Politics and Policy Evaluation (Stanford University Press, 2004) and articles including, "Hierarchical qualitative research teams: Refining the methodology?" (2005), "Qualitative Research and Federal Constraints and State Innovation?" (Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 1999).
In 2008 Dr. Rogers-Dillon joins the Editorial Board of Society. She will spend her year at Princeton University conducting research on the shifting boundaries between religion and the state in the United States, particularly in social welfare programs.
Mark Silk is director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life and Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, Hartford. He is the author of Spiritual Politics: Religion and America Since World War II, Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America, and (with Andrew Walsh) the forthcoming One Nation, Divisible. He edits the Center's magazine, Religion in the News.
Amy Sullivan is a correspondent for National Journal and director of the Next Economy Project, a joint effort of National Journal and The Atlantic. She was previously a senior editor at TIME Magazine, where she directed coverage of the 2008 presidential primaries and wrote about politics, religion, and culture. Her first book, The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap, was published by Scribner in 2008.
Helen Whitney is a filmmaker with thirty years of experience in producing dramatic features and documentaries primarily for network television. Her subjects have stretched across a broad spectrum of topics: youth gangs in the South Bronx; a portrait of the 1996 Presidential candidates, Clinton and Dole; a Trappist monastery in Massachusetts; the McCarthy Era, a three hour biography of John Paul II; and the work of the photographer Richard Avedon.
Her most recent documentaries were the two hour PBS special about the aftermath of 9/11; "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero" and the four hour prime time series, "The Mormons," for WGBH's Frontline/American Experience. Her dramatic features have appeared on PBS and ABC. Her work has been recognized by such awards as the Peabody, the Emmy, the Alfred I. Dupont, the Sundance Institute and an Academy Award nomination. She is currently at work on a two hour PBS special about forgiveness that will air in 2008.
Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of a sect closely related to it (e.g., the Community of Christ). The Mormon religion was founded by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have received an angelic vision telling him of the location of golden plates containing God's revelation; this he published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon. Smith and his followers accepted the Bible as well as the Mormon sacred scriptures but diverged significantly from orthodox Christianity, especially in their assertion that God exists in three distinct entities as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mormons also believe that faithful members of the church will inherit eternal life as gods. Other unique doctrines include the belief in preexisting souls waiting to be born and in salvation of the dead through retroactive baptism. The church became notorious for its practice of polygamy, though it was officially sanctioned only between 1852 and 1890. Smith and his followers migrated from Palmyra, N.Y., to Ohio, Missouri, and finally Illinois, where Smith was killed by a mob in 1844. In 184647, under Brigham Young, the Mormons made a 1,100-mi (1,800-km) trek to Utah, where they founded Salt Lake City. In the early 21st century, the church had a worldwide membership of nearly 10 million, swelled yearly by the missionary work that church members, both men and women, are encouraged to perform.
I have dealt with the issue of the Republicans being perceived as either too narrow minded or opportunists selling everything for the sake of the big business here
I think it is appropriate in this context
It irks me that there is considerable, lengthy, and in-depth conversation and debate about 'electability' of a Mormon candidate, when I think (intellectually) the more important question is why faith matters at all ? I was a little disgusted at the mention of other Republican candidates being 'coy' at talking about whether they go to church, and mocking that they 'never go at all'.
I'm an ex-mormon, and while I find it fascinating to see a Mormon candidacy unfold, I think the picture people should try to see is that faith is personal, not political. It may guide your beliefs, but it should not define them. And the litmus test of Christian faith for a candidate is outdated and frankly embarassing. So discussing whether Mormonism is REALLY a Christian religion is somewhat besides the point. What I would love to see is a head to head of the mystical beliefs of each faith, and try to objectively surmise which is more probable. Hmmm, Magical tools and Golden Plates buried in hill in New York or a talking snake in the Garden. If you can step outside your mind for just a second and think about it, you can plainly see it's equally absurd (and I guess if you're inclined, believable)
I really enjoyed watching the piece on Mitt, Mormonism and the Media. I am a member of the LDS Church, living in Canada. I am always interested in watching politics to the south, which in many ways is extremely different from what we see here, but that is likely wishful thinking.
Because I am LDS, have served a mission, have served in the church in various capacities, have served the communities in which I live, have many good friends who are members and many others who are not, many of whom I consider to be personal mentors and exemplary examples of good people, I do marvel at the debate surrounding Mitt Romney and his religious beliefs.
Would I like my close personal non-mormon friends to adopt my faith, sure I would. If they don't will I reject them. Of course not.
From a view north of the 49th parallel, I would think one would welcome a president who is honest, has good personal ethics and morals, stands for something, can be trusted, etc. -- which perhaps more than one candidate, republican or democrat might actually be.
I for one would rather vote for someone, than against someone, based on my own study, analysis and good judgement -- and hope my wife did not cancel out my vote.
As a practicing Mormon I got a good deal out of this.
I learned far more from Helen in her talk here than I got out of her whole documentary on my faith.
The most interesting thing to me was the academic that she refused to name. To anyone aware of the backgrounds of the scholars she used for the program it becomes clear that the man who felt we are 'radioactive' and who didn't trust us is Harold Bloom. He fits like a glove her description. I know of no other academic that's looked into the field of Mormonism and come out with a more firmly set up contrast in feelings between Joseph Smith and the present Church.
I still really like and appreciate the last statement he makes in the documentary about our faith. I think it's my favorite part of her whole documentary. Though there were several very good parts.
What I wouldn't have given to have been a fly on the wall those four years she was making that documentary.