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A Life-Cycle Theory of Religion and Politics

A Life-Cycle Theory of Religion and Politics

(p.39) Three A Life-Cycle Theory of Religion and Politics
From Politics to the Pews
Michele F. Margolis
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 3 describes the life-cycle theory, which builds on two well-established ideas in political science and religion. First, the “impressionable years” hypothesis, from political science, states that outside influences and events shape one's long-term political outlook, including partisan identity, during adolescence and young adulthood. After this period, the resulting partisan identity is a stable, powerful identity in its own right. Second, scholars of religion have shown that although teenagers and young adults tend to distance themselves from their parents' religion and religious practice in general, they must then decide whether to remain on the outskirts of religion or to re-enter the religious realm as they emerge into adulthood. Those who return to religion must then also decide 1) to what degree to be involved in religion and 2) what religious beliefs to accept and reject. The timings of the religious and political socialization processes mean that political identities form at the very time when religion is a peripheral concern for many people. Then, when individuals must decide if and how to engage in the religious world, their political identities—solidified earlier in young adulthood—may exert a lasting influence on their religious identities.

Keywords:   religion and politics, partisanship, socialization, impressionable years, religiosity over time

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