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Exploring Religion

Video Interviews

The interviews on this page were recorded for the ARDA’s online course, Exploring Religion.

All interviews are conducted by Dr. Kerby Goff and Dr. George Hayward, former research associates for the ARDA. Dr. Goff is currently the Associate Director of Research for the Boniuk Institute at Rice University and Dr. Hayward is a Survey Statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau.


Session 2: Video Interview with Dr. Gina Zurlo, Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary

In this session, Dr. Goff is joined by Dr. Gina Zurlo, a religious demographer and co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, for a discussion about global, regional and organizational differences in religion. Dr. Zurlo explains what religious demography is and why it is important, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the data that currently exist on global religion. She also discusses the biggest changes in global religious demography over recent decades, including the rise and fall of religion in different portions of the world, the resilience of traditional religions and geographic shifts in global Christianity and global Judaism.

Session 3: Video Interview with Rich Houseal, U.S. Religion Census

In this session, Dr. Hayward is joined by Dr. Rich Houseal, the director of Research Services for the Church of the Nazarene Global Ministry Center and data liaison for the U.S. Religion Census, for a discussion about local congregations and communities. Dr. Houseal describes the methodology and significance of the congregation-centric Religion Census, sharing that about half of the U.S. population is associated with a religious congregation. He also discusses the challenges involved in defining religious congregations and deciding who counts as an adherent when different religious traditions conceptualize membership and participation differently. Finally, Dr. Houseal shares how the Religion Census can help students understand the religious context of their own communities.

Session 4: Video Interview with Greg Smith, Pew Research Center

In this session, Dr. Hayward is joined by Dr. Greg Smith, the associate director of research at Pew Research Center, for a discussion on the religious beliefs and behaviors of individuals. Dr. Smith discusses how survey research can help us learn about religiosity at the individual level. He shares trends from Pew’s Religious Landscape Study, including an explanation of the much-discussed religious nones. Finally, Dr. Smith encourages students to see the ways that surveys reveal the complexity of individuals even as they help us to identify large-scale trends.

Session 5: Video Interview with Dr. Lisa Pearce, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In this session, Dr. Hayward is joined by Dr. Lisa Pearce, a sociologist and demographer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Faculty Fellow at the Carolina Population Center, for a conversation about the use of interviews as a research method in order to prepare students to conduct their own research interviews. Dr. Pearce explains the concept of mixed-methods research and why we need both quantitative and qualitative research to fully understand the role of religion in society. She outlines some of the strengths and weaknesses of interview methods, and she gives advice to students for interviewing people about religion as they prepare to do so for their interview research project.

Session 6: Video Interview with Dr. Orit Avishai, Fordham University

In this session, Dr. Goff is joined by Dr. Orit Avishai,  a sociologist and ethnographer at Fordham University, for a discussion about religion and gender. Dr. Avishai complicates the common question of why women tend to be more religious than men by discussing cases in which that might or might not be true. She also discusses the idea that gender and religion are “performative,” and what it means for people to perform gender and religion, as well as other dimensions of identity, at the same time. Dr. Avishai addresses the question of why women may choose to stay engaged in traditional religious institutions that may seem to be oppressive or deny them agency when viewed from the perspective of outsiders, as well as the ways that women in these traditions exercise their agency to negotiate with, resist, or push for change in potentially oppressive contexts. Along the way, Dr. Avishai provides interesting insights into the use of ethnography as a research methodology and how it can be used to illuminate our understanding of religion.

Session 7: Video Interview with Dr. Amy Adamczyk, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

In this session, Dr. Hayward is joined by Dr. Amy Adamczyk, a sociologist at the City University of New York, for a discussion about religion and sexuality. Dr. Adamczyk reveals the surprising relationship between democracy, economic development and religious context in producing variation in beliefs about homosexuality throughout the world. She also provides some predictions about how public opinion on homosexuality might change throughout the world in future decades. Along the way, Dr. Adamczyk provides interesting insights about the ways that content analysis, machine learning and other creative data collection efforts have enhanced her research, as well as the risks of using these methods.

Session 8: Video Interview with Dr. Fenggang Yang, Purdue University

In this session, Dr. Goff and Dr. Hayward are joined by Dr. Fenggang Yang, a sociologist and director of the Center on Religion and the Global East at Purdue University, for a discussion on race, ethnicity and immigration. Dr. Yang explains why it is important to understand religion among immigrants in the U.S. in order to understand the overall religious landscape and how important religion is to many immigrants in finding community in the U.S. He also discusses how immigrants adapt their religion when they move to new contexts, including the key processes of congregationalization, pristinization and universalization. Additionally, Dr. Yang addresses the relationship of religion with racialized and immigration-related tensions, as well as religious trends among international students at universities in the U.S.

Session 9: Video Interview with Dr. Korie Little Edwards, The Ohio State University

In this session, Dr. Goff is joined by Dr. Korie Little Edwards, a sociologist at The Ohio State University and director of the Religious Leadership and Diversity Project, for a discussion on religious movements. Dr. Edwards discusses the challenges that exist for pastors of multiracial churches as they seek to promote diversity in light of the fact that people tend towards homogeneous groups. She describes why African American and Asian American pastors of multiracial churches specifically operate as “estranged pioneers.” Dr. Edwards also engages in historical analysis of the changing relationship between the Black Church and social movements since the civil rights movement.

Session 10: Video Interview with Dr. Rachel Rinaldo, University of Colorado and Dr. Chris Scheitle, West Virginia University

In this session, Dr. Goff is joined by Dr. Rachel Rinaldo, a cultural sociologist and faculty director of the Center for Asian Studies at University of Colorado Boulder, for a discussion on religion and social movements. Using her ethnography of Muslim women’s organizations in Indonesia as a starting point, Dr. Rinaldo discusses the complex relationship among religion, government, and social movements. She points out the ways that the same religious tradition may be used by different groups to promote both progressive and conservative views, which can bring conflicts over interpretation to the forefront. Dr. Rinaldo also explains the ideas behind “piety movements,” and the key roles that women play in these movements.


In this session, Dr. Hayward is joined by Dr. Chris Scheitle, a sociologist at West Virginia University, for a discussion on religion and social movements, with a focus on the role of nonprofit organizations. Dr. Scheitle explains how we can use organizational theories to understand religion, even though these theories tended to be used primarily by business schools and organizational sociologists in the past. He discusses the extensive presence and influence of nonprofit organizations in the religious landscape of the U.S. Along the way, Dr. Scheitle provides interesting insights on finding your own data when there is no existing data on your topic.

Session 11: Video Interview with Dr. Nancy Ammerman, Boston University

In this session, Dr. Goff and Dr. Hayward are joined by Dr. Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist and professor emerita at Boston University, for a conversation about what students can learn from visiting congregations for their final research project. Dr. Ammerman starts by explaining why the congregation is such an important site for studying religion, then describes what students can learn about religion by visiting congregations that it is not possible to learn from secondhand sources. She gives advice on getting the most out of their visits to unfamiliar congregations, including seven dimensions of “lived religion” to observe. Finally, Dr. Ammerman shares advice with students for working through any discomfort that they may feel when visiting a congregation that belongs to an unfamiliar religious tradition.

Session 12: Video Interview with Dr. Eric McDaniel, University of Texas at Austin

In this session, Dr. Goff is joined by Dr. Eric McDaniel, a political scientist and co-director of the Politics of Race and Ethnicity Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, for a conversation about religion and politics. Dr. McDaniel discusses the relationship between religion and politics in the U.S., including the difference between the political engagement of congregations in which different racial/ethnic groups are dominant. He also specifically explains what we know about the role of white evangelicals and Black Protestants in the U.S. political landscape and the differing ways that each tradition interacts with Christian nationalism. Dr. McDaniel also elucidates the difference between public and private religion and how they each relate to political views.

Session 13: Video Interview with Dr. Jonathan Fox, Bar Ilan University in Israel

In this session, Dr. Hayward is joined by Dr. Jonathan Fox, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Religion and State Project, for a conversation about religion and the state. Dr. Fox describes the changing relationship between religion and government throughout the world, as well as the factors that are associated with religious discrimination by governments. He also discusses the ways that discrimination against Jews is unique, and the reasons why societal discrimination against Jews is so high despite low rates of government discrimination. Ultimately, Dr. Fox argues that we must seek to understand the relationship between religion and state, because religion plays a central role in how many national governments operate, for better or worse.

Session 14: Video Interview with Dr. Tymofii Brik, Kyiv School of Economics

In this interview recorded in 2021 during the early stages of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Dr. Goff is joined by Dr. Tymofii Brik, a sociologist and Vice President for International Relations at Kyiv School of Economics, for a conversation about religion, competition and conflict. Dr. Brik explains how sociologists measure and study religious competition, as well as the potential positive and negative effects of religious competition for religious groups and societies. He also provides an in-depth commentary about religious competition in Ukraine, including the role of religious conflict in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. Finally, Dr. Brik addresses the relationship between religion and national identity in Ukraine and how this compares to the concept of Christian nationalism in the U.S.

Session 15: Video Interview with Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund, Rice University

In this session, Dr. Goff and Dr. Hayward are joined by Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist and director of the Boniuk Institute at Rice University, for a conversation about secularization. Dr. Ecklund reviews the findings from her research on what scientists think about religion and what religious people think about science. She discusses the stereotypes and misperceptions that exist about the relationship between science and religion in society, as well as the negative consequences that can proceed from those stereotypes. Finally, Dr. Ecklund connects this research to theories on secularization and argues that nuance is needed to understand the transformation, rise and decline of religion in all of its forms.

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