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Why it matters that Mitt Romney is a Mormon

In a new podcast, sociologist Dr Alexander Smith warns Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith could cause conflict within the Republican party and block his path to the White House.

He says: “That Mitt Romney prevailed in the Republican primary is politically significant because there are lingering suspicions amongst his Party’s conservative Christian base about his faith as a Mormon and his legislative record as a moderate while Governor of Massachusetts.

“His former support for abortion rights for women, gay marriage and funding for embryonic stem cell research does not necessarily sit well with his Mormonism, let alone the Christian Right. The Democrats will no doubt seek to exploit such tensions amongst Republican voters in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election.”

Dr Smith, Senior Leverhulme Research Fellow in Sociology at the University of Warwick, has started work on a new research project looking at the growing impact of religion on policy debates about science funding and teaching in the US and UK.

The project, called ‘Science, Religion and the making of publics in the UK and US’, is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and Dr Smith is collaborating with Professor John Holmwood (President, British Sociological Association).

Over the next four years, he will interview activists, politicians and religious leaders engaged with debates over controversial science and technology including abortion, embryonic stem cell research and the teaching of Creationism/Intelligent Design in secondary schools.

He will also be carrying out long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Kansas City, which in recent years has emerged as a primary battleground in America’s so-called ‘culture wars’ between religious conservatives antagonistic towards science and those secular Americans who oppose them.

In the University of Warwick podcast about his research project, Dr Smith said:

“I want to consider how these controversial issues are being used to generate new political opportunities for religious claims and traditions.

“The conventional wisdom would suggest that religion is playing a greater role in politics today than it was. My suspicion is that religious voices have been engaging with these debates for a long time, but politicians and policy makers are just waking up to the fact that those voices are there.”

Dr Smith will begin collecting field data this summer, where he will focus on Republican primary races in Kansas scheduled for 7 August – particularly the Kansas State Board of Education, which is being hotly contested this year by supporters and opponents of the teaching of Creationism in the high school science curriculum.

Listen to Dr Smith talk about Mitt Romney and Mormonism. (link to 2 min segment)

Listen to Dr Smith’s full podcast (link to full podcast)

Notes to editors

Dr Alexander Smith is the Project Leader responsible for a four-year project entitled ‘Science, religion and the making of publics in the US and UK’ (total funding: £255,421) on which he is collaborating with Professor John Holmwood (School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham).

Dr Smith’s project commenced on 1 May 2012 and forms part of a £1.66 million, five-year research programme called ‘Making Science Public: Challenges and Opportunities’, which is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and led by Professor Brigitte Nerlich (Institute of Science and Society, University of Nottingham).

The research programme is managed by twelve Project Leaders, including Dr Smith and Professor Holmwood, and is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Universities of Nottingham, Sheffield and Warwick.

Dr Smith regularly writes about his research on his blog http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/alexandersmith/ and he is also on Twitter @AlexTTSmith,

The website for the ‘Making Science Public’ research programme can be found here: http://nottingham.ac.uk/sociology/research/projects/making-science-public/index.aspx

For more information, please contact Kelly Parkes-Harrison, Press and Communications Manager, University of Warwick, 02476 150868, 07824 540863, k.e.parkes@warwick.ac.uk