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Beyond the Dogmatic Believer: Religious Conviction across the American Political Divide

Religion, Humility, and Democracy in a Divided America

ISBN: 978-1-78973-950-3, eISBN: 978-1-78973-949-7

Publication date: 5 August 2019


A growing interdisciplinary literature explores how people can simultaneously hold strong convictions and remain open to the possibility of learning from others with whom they disagree. This tension impacts not only knowledge development but also public discourse within a diverse and disagreeing democracy. This volume of Political Power and Social Theory considers the specific question of how religious convictions inform how people engage in democratic life, particularly across deep political divides. In this introduction, I begin by discussing how a narrow vision of religious citizens as dogmatic believers has led observers to frame religion as a concerning source of democratic distortion – encouraging too much arrogance and not enough humility. Yet this dogmatic believer narrative captures only one aspect of American religion. Juxtaposing a snapshot of dogmatic believers alongside two other snapshots of religious groups engaging in political life raises complex questions about the relationship between religious conviction, humility, and democracy in a time of deep political polarization. I argue that answering these questions requires a sociological approach that is attuned to power, context, culture, institutions, and history. At the same time, I show how attention to the tension between conviction and humility has the potential to enrich the sociological study of religion and democracy, and particularly ethnographic research across the moral/political divide.




I gratefully acknowledge support for this volume, as well as for the April 2017 conference on “Religious Conviction and Intellectual Humility in Public Life” out of which it emerged, from the Humility and Conviction in Public Life Project of the UConn Humanities Institute, led by Michael P. Lynch and funded by the John Templeton Foundation. For more information about this project, visit Participants in this conference previously published reflections on “American Religion, Humility, and Democracy” as an essay forum at The Immanent Frame ( I also wish to thank Julian Go, Jeff Guhin, Michael Lynch, and Rhys Williams for their comments on previous drafts of this Introduction. Special thanks go to Julian Go, the editor of Political Power and Social Theory, for the opportunity to develop this volume.


Braunstein, R. (2019), "Beyond the Dogmatic Believer: Religious Conviction across the American Political Divide", Religion, Humility, and Democracy in a Divided America (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 36), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 1-22.



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