Re-examining restructuring: Racialization, religious conservatism, and political leanings in contemporary American life

John O'Brien, Eman Abdelhadi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper assesses the continued relevance of Robert Wuthnow's seminal theory of “religious restructuring” for explaining the relationship between religious conservatism and political allegiances in the contemporary United States. Employing a comparative approach, we evaluate the link between doctrinal conservatism (or liberalism) and political conservatism across the seven largest US religious traditions, including Islam. We find that for most Christians and Jews, doctrinal conservatism continues to be tightly linked with conservative political attitudes, even after adjusting for demographic differences and religiosity. For Muslims, Black Protestants, and Latinx Catholics however, doctrinal conservatism is unlikely to be associated with political conservatism. In short, Wuthnow's theory still holds, but only for religious traditions that are majority white. We speculate that being “racialized religious traditions” explains the lack of restructuring we observe among Muslims, Black Protestants, and Latinx Catholics. External social and political pressures have kept unifying racialized religious identities salient for each of these traditions, preventing the internal bifurcation still characteristic of other major American religions. Our findings and approaches contribute to the two growing trends within the sociological study of religion-the analytical integration of considerations of race and racial politics into scholarship on religious life (called “complex religion”) and a recognition of the importance of cultural “styles” of religion in shaping political and social behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)474-503
Number of pages30
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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