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Research Team

The Role of Religion in Fostering Civic Responsibility

The Research Team for the Civic Responsibility Project consists of Corwin Smidt, Kevin denDulk, Doug Koopman, Stephen Monsma, and James Penning. Each scholar is exploring specific facets of the topics under consideration, and evaluates how their particular focus impacts the interplay between religion and civic responsibility.

Corwin Smidt, Project Director

“This study of civic responsibility broadens the analysis to assess both the attitudinal, value-rooted commitments [of people] and the behavioral responses – as well as the interplay between the two. Since civic responsibility entails moral as well as behavioral dimensions, one might well anticipate that religion would be even more strongly related to civic responsibility than it is to civic engagement. But since no such study has been conducted to this point, it is unclear whether this is the case empirically.”

Professor Smidt Is the Director of the Paul Henry Institute and a Professor of Political Science at Calvin College. He earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Iowa, and specializes in American public opinion and electoral behavior. Smidt is the editor of several volumes, including Pulpit and Politics: Clergy in American Politics at the Advent of the Millennium; Religion and Social Capital; and Sojourners in the Wilderness: The Christian Right in Comparative Perspective. In addition, he has co-authored a number of books, including Evangelicalism: The Next Generation; The Bully Pulpit: The Politics of Protestant Clergy; and Culture Wars: Dispatches from the Front.

Dr. Smidt has served as the Executive Director of the Religion and Politics section of the American Political Science Association and as President of Christians in Political Science, a national association of Christian scholars engaged in the study of political science.

Corwin Smidt will direct the project and his research will focus on an examination of traditional forms of civic engagement including memberships in voluntary associations, community involvement, and service.

Kevin den Dulk

“I am interested in the role religion plays in political culture, especially in how religion shapes the nature and limits of tolerance and social trust.

"Our research findings to date have been remarkably consistent in showing empirical relationships between religion and civic virtues, knowledge, and engagement. But I would also argue that our work is a cautionary tale. Religion's role is not always intuitive or predictable, and it is often misstated or overstated in media portrayals, especially in this 2008 hotly contested presidential election."

Kevin den Dulk (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, 2001) is associate professor of political science and Honors Faculty Fellow at Grand Valley State University. An award winning teacher, he has been active in a range of civic education initiatives in his local community and at the state and national levels. His scholarship focuses on education policy, judicial politics, and the role of religion in public life. In addition to Pews, Prayers and Participation, which he co-authored with his Henry Institute colleagues, he is an author of Religion and Politics in America (Westview, 2004) and numerous journal articles, book chapters, and reviews.

As part of the Civic Responsibility research team, Dr. den Dulk is examining the decision-making component of civic responsibility, that is, making decisions that move beyond personal self-interest and toward broader understandings of citizenship and the common good.

Doug Koopman

“I'm excited to work on political tolerance as part of the Civic Responsibility Project. Tolerance is an often-used and sometimes misunderstood term in public discourse, even among social scientists. The concept of tolerance has some highly-debated normative questions associated with it, and there is an ongoing debate over how well social surveys measure it. Our work will further investigate both theoretical and empirical questions.

"Our path for this project presents interesting and stimulating issues; our recent national survey provided a valuable baseline for this year's presidential election, as it confirmed the findings of other research but also added new and unique information. With our ongoing work following the 2008 presidential election to its conclusion, our research is particularly timely given the many religious themes and personalities presenting themselves this year as we examine religious variables and events in the nomination processes of both parties."

Doug Koopman is a Professor of Political Science at Calvin College. Koopman received his Ph.D. in American Politics, with a minor in Political Theory from the Catholic University of America, and has worked extensively as a legislative advisor and aide to a number of elected officials holding federal office, as well as lecturing in the field at Marymount University and the Catholic University of America. Koopman co-authored Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bush's Faith-Based Proposals, edited Serving the Claims of Justice: The Thoughts of Paul B. Henry and is the author of Hostile Takeover: the House Republican Party, 1980-1995.

Dr. Koopman has served as newsletter editor and ex-officio officer for the Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association, as well as working in prominent positions for Search for Common Ground and the House Republican Conference. He is a member of the American Political Science Association, the Midwest Political Science Association and Christians in Political Science.

Koopman will be examining the ways religion relates to norms and expressions of political tolerance.

Stephen Monsma

"There is scattered evidence that those who are more religious are also more likely to volunteer their time to community groups, to give money to community causes, to vote, to be politically involved, and in other ways to be responsible citizens. Yet much existing research ignores, plays down, or deals simplistically with religion as a factor in civic responsibility. Thus I am excited by our current study, which makes religion a focus – not an afterthought – in our consideration of civic responsibility.”

Stephen Monsma is currently a Research Fellow at the Paul Henry Institute at Calvin College, and is a Professor of Political Science Emeritus at both Calvin College and Pepperdine University. Dr. Monsma received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University and has done extensive work in the areas of church-state relations and Faith-based nonprofit organizations. He is the author of many books, including Faith, Hope and Jobs: Welfare to Work in Los Angeles (with Christopher Soper); Putting Faith in Partnerships: Welfare-to-Work in Four Cities; Working Faith: How Religious Organizations Provide Welfare-to-Work Services; The Challenge of Pluralism: Church and State in Five Democracies; and When Sacred and Secular Mix: Religious Nonprofit Organizations and Public Money. In addition, he edited Church-State Relations in Crisis: Debating Neutrality and is the co-editor of Equal Treatment of Religion in a Pluralistic Society.

Monsma taught Political Science at both Calvin College and Pepperdine University, and served in the Michigan State House of Representatives and Senate from 1972 to 1982, after which he continued his public role while working with the Michigan Natural Resources Commission for two years and the Michigan Department of Social Services from 1985-1987.

Dr. Monsma is a member of the American Political Science Association, and Christians in Political Science, among other professional organizations.

As part of the research team on the Civic Responsibility Grant, Monsma will be examining philanthropy, namely volunteering and charitable contributions.

James Penning

“This exciting project promises to enrich our understanding of the myriad ways in which religion and politics interact in contemporary American society. I am looking forward to examining the role of religion in the 2008 presidential election: In what important ways will religion influence the behavior of the candidates and the votes of the electorate? How will the role played by religion in 2008 differ from that in past elections? I am also anticipating our broader analysis of the relationship between religion and political tolerance, including ways that it can contribute to or detract from political tolerance."

James Penning is a Professor of Political Science at Calvin College and Director of the Calvin College Center for Social Research (CSR). He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky, and his interests lie in American state and local government, and religion and politics. He has co-authored a number of books, including Christian Political Action; Sojourners in the Wilderness: The Christian Right in Comparative Perspective; Evangelicalism: The Next Generation, and Pews, Prayers and Participation. In addition, Penning has written numerous articles for publication in scholarly journals.

Dr. Penning is past president of the Michigan Conference of Political Scientists. He is also a member of the American Political Science Association (and has served as the Treasurer and Executive Board member for the Religion and Politics Section) and the Midwest Political Science Association, as well as the Association for the Sociology of Religion, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Religious Research Association, among others.

The role of religious institutions in fostering civic skills and political knowledge will be the primary focus of research for Dr. Penning in his work on the Civic Responsibility Project.


Pictured: Corwin Smidt, Doug Koopman, Stephen Monsma,
James Penning, and Kevin den Dulk

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