Religion on Capitol Hill

Religion on Capitol Hill : Myths and Realities

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Religion on Capitol Hill, through its pointed illustration of the influence of the religious factor in the policy-making process, has earned a well-deserved reputation among political scientists as a "classic." It demonstrates the fallibility of the popular myths surrounding the place of religion in Congress and sheds light on their correlation with political affiliation and voting records. Proven an excellent supplement for courses in religion and politics, religion and society, and the sociology and psychology of religion, it fills a critical gap by addressing the themes growing out of the increasing interest in the relationship between religion and legislation.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 244 pages
  • 134.62 x 200.66 x 15.24mm | 204.12g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 12 figures, 27 tables
  • 0195041682
  • 9780195041682

Review Text

What does Congress believe in? This careful statistico-philosophical study reaches the (perhaps predictable) conclusion that the Senate and House mirror the religious patterns of the country as a whole; its real point, however, is to challenge various Fundamentalist canards and popular illusions. To wit: that the Congress is crawling with secular humanists, agnostics, and atheists (not a single atheist reared his or her ugly head during this survey); that conservatives are more religious than liberals; that when it comes to the crunch, religion doesn't really count in voting decisions; that Evangelicals on the Hill form a political monolith, closely allied with the New Right. Benson and Williams systematically give the lie to these notions. In 1980, they note, a majority of the members of Congress professed a belief in the divinity of Christ and life after death, while 24 percent claimed their faith had a "major" influence on their voting (56 percent said "moderate," 19 percent said "minor," and I percent said "none"). Elsewhere we learn that the host of congressional "religionists" falls into six categories - "legalistic" (15 percent), "integrated" (14 percent), "self-concerned" (29 percent); "people-concerned" (10 percent), "nontraditional" (9 percent), and "nominal" (22 percent), leaving I percent for that pesky "none." "Self-concerned" lawmakers, it turns out, are largely conservative, and their "people-concerned" colleagues (outnumbered almost 3 to 1!) are liberal. All these figures and many, many more were obtained through face-to-face interviews with 80 randomly selected but typical (and anonymous) legislators. Here, if anywhere, is the Achilles heel of this formidable research project: we never learn how its sample group was chosen. But Benson and Williams' findings sound reasonable, so even though they don't carry as much weight as an in-depth biographical-sociological analysis would, they do tell us something interesting about the ways Congress perceives itself. (Kirkus Reviews)show more