Center director addresses impact of religious leaders on public policy
How do religious leaders affect the ways people think about big social issues?
Some of the Catholic Church’s recent moves to influence policy, including Pope Francis leading hours of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, got KJZZ's Nick Blumberg thinking about how, and how much, religious leaders can affect the way people make decisions on hotly contested social issues.
Blumberg interviewed Linell Cady, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, to learn more about religious groups’ involvement in influencing immigration reform and policy on abortion, capital punishment and war.
Cady emphasized some of the difficulties religious leaders face when speaking about social issues.
“It’s a fine line between being, let’s say partisan, which creates enormous divisions within a congregation and a religious community, and trying to have a moral voice that speaks to the public issues of the day,” Cady said.
“I think religious leaders have to be careful about making decisions about when one becomes deeply involved in divisive issues.”
Cady also pointed out that people get their news from a variety of sources, even if they do belong to a particular “religious flock.”
“And that imagery, of a flock of sheep with the shepherd stating a position is just a caricature of the situation,” Cady said.
According to Cady, “members of religious communities have multiple identities and they do not just simply take the views of religious authority, although there does seem to be evidence that religious leaders have significant trust and respect accorded them.
“So there’s a way in which they can have perhaps greater influence than someone writing an op-ed column or a pundit in the newspaper,” she added.
Respecting your priest, however, does not mean you always follow his guidance. Cady pointed out that many Catholic women do not follow the church’s teachings about abortion and artificial contraception.
Cady also explained that faith leaders bring unique perspectives to public discussions of these types of issues.
“Different vocabularies and different perspectives that are not focused narrowly on self-interest, whether it’s political or economic ... can tap the imaginations of people, whether they are participants in a particular religious community or not,” Cady said.
In addition to serving as director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, Cady is also Dean’s Distinguished Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. Her most recent book is the co-edited volume, “Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference,” published by Columbia University Press.
The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict is an interdisciplinary research unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that examines the role of religion as a driving force in human affairs.
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