A team of UCSB researchers is spearheading a new project examining the resurgence of religion in contemporary American society, and its role in presidential politics.

The study – which received a $300,000 grant from the Ford Foundation – will investigate contemporary religious enthusiasm and its related agenda toward social change. The three-year study will focus on 24 different Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish congregations in the Los Angeles area and the Central Coast.

Wade Clark Roof – director of the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life – said the upcoming 2008 presidential election is an ideal moment to study the role spirituality plays in public policy.

“This is important because the country is at a crossroads moment: Will it continue on the same path that George W. Bush has taken us, or will we chart a new direction?” Roof said. “Clearly, Bush’s evangelical Christian style will no longer dominate the Washington scene. [Republican nominee John] McCain, if elected, will wear his religion less on his sleeve than Bush, but will continue many of the policies of the Bush Administration. And [Vice Presidential nominee Sarah] Palin, of course, will set a tone similar, in ways, to Bush. If [Democrat nominee Barack] Obama is elected, the chances are much greater that progressive voices in the country will be heard and listened. That would make for a major shift in mood and style.”

Roof, a professor of religion and society, said the research team will specifically focus on political rhetoric employed by candidates throughout the presidential race.

“This is called ‘civil religion’ – the use of symbols, stories and biblical images linking country to a divine plan,” Roof said. “So, we are analyzing carefully what the presidential and vice presidential candidates say. For example, is American entry into Iraq ‘God’s plan,’ as Palin has implied?”

According to Kelli Coleman, a graduate student in the Religious Studies Dept., the research will draw on a variety of mediums to highlight the increased role of religion in political decision-making.

“[The study will include] an analysis of the myths, symbols and narratives drawn upon to inform the nation at the time of political change,” Coleman said. “In order to collect this data, we are looking at public speeches, major publications, Web sites, progressive religious commentators, progressive groups, polling data from the Pew Research Center and the elected candidates’ speeches, including the Inaugural Address.”

In conjunction with the study, the Capps Center will present a series of lectures, panel discussions and a conference on “Faith and Progressive Social Change” in the coming year.