Faculty panel discusses role religion plays in politics

When asked if she believes religion should play a role in politics, psychology junior Erin O’Connor paused.

“(Politics) is more than about religion. It’s about your world view,” said O’Connor, co-chair of MSU’s Interfaith Council. “But even if you’re an open-minded person, you’re still going to be influenced by your own religious views.”

Many of the same ifs and buts that floated into O’Connor’s head will be discussed during a Religion and Politics panel at 7 p.m. tonight in Room CIP 115 in the International Center.

The panel, which will discuss the role of religion on contemporary politics and the 2012 election, will be composed of James Madison professor Gene Burns, professor of law Frank Ravitch, associate professor of religion and American culture Amy DeRogatis and assistant professor of religious studies Mohammad Khalil.

“Religion is extremely influential in the current political debate,” Ravitch said. “As a nation, if that is the route we’re going to go, what does that mean in terms of policy making?”

Before discussing religion’s role in politics, Burns said it is important to recognize two common misconceptions: that people directly apply theology to politics and that everyone of the same religious identity agrees on everything.

“Those are both often wrong, it could be much more complicated,” he said.

Burns said religious identification is much more apparent in conservative candidates.

“It’s kind of harder to use religious language that will appeal to all Democrats,” he said. “Most Republicans either are comfortable with the religious language or they don’t really mind it.”

Burns said each candidate for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination holds religion in a different esteem.

For example, Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, aims to sound similar to other candidates when they discuss more common religions such as Christianity, because some Americans are suspicious of the Mormon religion, Burns said.

“He does not want to emphasize his Mormonism, but most people — conservatives or otherwise — don’t have a particular problem with it, which I’m not sure I would’ve said 15 years ago,” he said.
In terms of the Democratic party, Khalil said religion also plays a big role.

“Obama is indeed a Christian, but if today he were to convert to Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism, or become an atheist, he would probably lose in November,” he said.

O’Connor said she felt panels such as Religion and Politics are key to informing students about crucial political issues.

“Despite the fact we are a secular country, there will be some people who have ties to a religion,” she said.

Ravitch said he is expecting a successful discussion with his colleagues tonight.

“We all have our expertise in our fields and none of us are political activists that I can think of,” he said. “It’ll be a really good discussion of what may be the most important issue (in politics) that is not openly discussed.”

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