The BYU-Idaho Special Collections & Archives will sponsor a lecture by Matthew Miles, a political science faculty member, on Nov. 14 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. He will discuss the relationship between religious identity and political affiliation.
The lecture is based on a book Miles published in 2019 titled “Religious Identity in US Politics.” In the book, he examines data from surveys he conducted over several years and discusses the mutual impact of religion and politics in the United States. However, he doesn’t recommend his book to everyone.
“I would say 80% of Americans could not understand the book,” Miles said with a chuckle. “It’s very technical. There’s a lot of statistics and data analysis.”
Unlike his book, Miles’ lecture is designed to be accessible to everyone. He compared it to a TED Talk and said he’ll use stories and pictures to make his arguments rather than purely using scientific data.
Miles said he selected the topics from his book he felt were most relevant at BYU-Idaho. The first topic is what he described as political tolerance.
“Some people say that religion makes people more intolerant,” Miles said. “One of the arguments I make is that it’s not religion making people intolerant, but it’s the political coalitions that religions belong to that creates the intolerance.”
Miles listed a few things that some consider stereotypical of religious people, such as they hate environmentalists and love gun owners. He argued that these things have much less to do with religious doctrine than they do with where environmentalists and gun owners lineup politically compared with religious people.
“In my view, that’s actually a positive finding because it suggests that the divide between religion and non-religious people in America is easy to change,” Miles said. “If they were to change political coalitions, those groups could come together and they would start liking each other more.”
A part of Miles’ study centered on members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the most hated religious group in America, the least liked across the board,” Miles said. “But the Democrats like us way less than Republicans… and it’s because of how we align ourselves.”
Miles also explained how this affects the way the Church is perceived among other religious groups. According to survey data, the Church is generally disliked by all religions, but less so by Evangelicals Christians who tend to be Republican.
“That combination of partisanship with religious identity creates these kinds of relationships that most people will say, ‘That’s religion,’ and I’m saying, ‘It’s not religion,'” Miles said. “It’s about identities and the groups that you belong to.”
The other point Miles will cover focuses on the way that politics and religion affect one another. He referred to it as a “two-way street.”
“It goes both ways,” Miles said. “Religion influences political behaviors and what you think about people politically, but also your political identity influences your religious beliefs.”
Miles described a few surveys he did among Republicans and Democrats. He showed participants statements from the First Presidency contrary to their political views and had them indicate if they were willing to follow them.
“Their partisanship influences the way they behave religiously,” Miles said. “When the leaders of the Church give some kind of direction, they tend not to follow the leaders of the Church. So for people for whom politics is an important part of their identity, it influences their religion too.”
Miles believes it is important for BYU-I students to understand the way that politics and religion blend together and are reinforced in their minds and the minds of others.
“If a student comes to BYU-Idaho from a liberal state where everybody’s a Democrat and they’re a strong member of our church, and you attack their party, then in some ways you’re also attacking their religion, even though you’re not aware of it because the two are intertwined,” Miles said. “It’s a part of who they are.”
To prepare for his lecture, Miles recommended students examine how strongly they affiliate with their political party as well as their church. He said they should reflect on how they feel when someone attacks a member of their party or church, such as President Trump or President Nelson.
Event details for the lecture can be found on the McKay Library website.