A Changing Wall: Local Religious Leaders and Church-State Interaction in a New Era

“As religious diversity increases, and the Supreme Court supports an increasing array of church-state interactions, our project will show how local religious leaders and local government officials are negotiating this changing landscape, and how it matters for the future of American democratic life. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Gary Adler Penn State University Contact Me
Rebecca E. Sager Loyola Marymount University Contact Me
Damon Mayrl Colby College Contact Me

About this project grant for researchers

Although local church-state interactions are a longstanding feature of American civic life, they are rarely studied. Consequently, we know little about the scope, character, or frequency of these interactions. This gap is troubling because our current era is characterized both by growing religious diversity and a new legal approach that has relaxed restrictions on interaction across the church-state boundary. As a result, new meanings and interactions are developing which could dramatically alter the role of religion in public life. While some religious groups may seek to cement a privileged status in public affairs, others may try to develop innovative strategies that expand or reimagine public religious pluralism. To better understand how religion contributes to democratic local life in this new era, our project examines how community contexts, religious tradition, and local dynamics shape religious leaders’ experiences and views of church-state interaction. We will interview 150 religious leaders across the United States, from different regions and religious traditions, to document the changing landscape of church-state relations at the local level. Our published research will provide a portrait of ways that church and state interact, offering insight into how the public exercise of religious liberty adds to contemporary democratic life.