Although secularist theorists argue that religion will become less relevant in political discussions as society progresses, issues of religion and race will continue to be important factors in the upcoming election and beyond, said Gaston Espinosa, a visiting fellow in Religious and Public Life at the University and a professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College, in a Wednesday lecture.
Espinosa considered the question of whether the vast majority of Americans want less talk about religion in politics and feel indifferent about the religious beliefs of their presidential candidates.
He noted that recent studies show that religion in America — particularly Christianity — is in decline. He discussed how, despite this, studies from organizations like the Pew Research Center show that religion is still an influence in a majority of voters’ decisions.
A majority of Americans say that religion is an important part for their life, he said. He explained a study showing that more than 50 percent Americans feel that the candidate they vote for should share their religious beliefs, and nearly half of Americans also say that churches should express views on politics.
He added that the studies showing a decline in religion fail to take into account that “nones,” or people who have indicated they do not belong to any religion, are often misclassified.
“There’s this question about the rise of the nones,” he said. “Are nones really all atheists?”
Only 24 percent of people who indicate that they have no religion truly have no sort of belief in God or spiritual and religious practice, according to Espinosa.
Espinosa noted that religions such as Islam, Evangelicalism, and Mormonism are on the rise. Other fast-growing sects include independent, non-denominational religious centers, especially in Latin-American communities.
Latino communities, he said, are growing rapidly across the United States and are already the largest minority in 25 states. By 2100, only 40 percent of the U.S. population will be white, while 33 percent will be Hispanic.
“Racial populations are growing more rapidly than people realize and are offsetting others,” Espinosa said, adding that even in historically more conservative states, such as Georgia and North Carolina, racial minorities are a growing share of the electorate.
Presently, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are demonstrating awareness of this shift through their campaign trail strategies, he added.
“Clinton has made a calculated decision to use religion as a vehicle,” Espinosa explained.
He referred to her visiting and praying at historically black churches as a part of her campaign and compared it to Trump’s recent visits to newly established black churches in an effort to connect to both racial minorities and religious leaders.
Espinosa said he foresees race playing an increasingly important role in a post-Obama America given the decline of the white electorate, and religion playing an increasingly important role due to the presence of religion in some form in a vast majority of Americans’ lives.