Book chapter

Experimentation in the Study of Religion and Politics (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Experiments in religion and politics model a communication system with three elements: who (the sample) is exposed to what (the treatment) and with what potential effect (the outcome). Most experiments in religion and politics focus on one of three types of samples: clergy, the faithful within certain religious groups, or all citizens within a polity. At the core of the experiment is the randomized treatment: an independent variable that the researcher manipulates and randomly assigns to treatment groups that are supposed to be equivalent in all other respects. Certain kinds of treatments tend to be associated with certain kinds of hypothesized outcomes. That is, most experiments in religion and politics involve investigating either (a) how a randomized treatment related to religion affects a political outcome or (b) how a randomized treatment related to politics affects a religious outcome.There are several types of religious treatments that closely mirror the actual insertion of religion into public life: manipulating candidates' religious affiliations, behavior, and rhetoric; manipulating appeals attributed to religious elites and institutions; priming subjects' own religious or political beliefs or manipulating other religious attributes of subjects; manipulating the characteristics of other citizens; and manipulating religious institutional cues received by clergy.Experimental methods are everywhere now in the study of religion and politics and provide clear benefits for understanding how religion and politics interact. Perhaps most importantly, the method imposes intellectual rigor, helping scholars pin down theoretically and empirically the precise mechanisms involved in the mutual impact between religion and politics. In addition, experimental control enables scholars to assert more confidently the direction of influence among variables that in the real world plausibly influence each other.