Saving the Market: Harry Potter, Churches, and Globalization

Harry Potter fans made the news recently for their political victory. Due to four years of advocacy work, all Harry Potter chocolates produced by Warner Brothers are guaranteed to be fairly traded or ethically produced. As I have mentioned in an earlier blog, chocolate is commodity where how its traded  makes a difference, with significant amount of the chocolate sold by popular vendors being linked to child slavery, especially in parts of West Africa. This line sums up the key argument of the Washington Post article:

But Warner Bros.’ commitment to new standards for cocoa production grew out of pressure from and dialogue with “Harry Potter” devotees who wanted to see the franchise live up to the ideals their fictional hero fought for.

Having read the entire Harry Potter series this summer with my daughter, I’m pretty sure that the ethical consumption of chocolate isn’t a key issue—or really, an issue at all—in the books. However, Harry Potter fans are making connections between economic decisions and the values of “their fictional hero.” I’ve argued that these very connections are, lamentably, often lacking for Christians. Last month, Cambridge University Press release my first book, Free Trade and Faithful Globalization: Saving the Market. In it, I profile three Christian communities: a Canadian ecumenical group, Kairos; the Presbyterian Church (USA); and the Catholic Church in Costa Rica. While the topic of my book is their engagement with international free trade policies, I more generally investigate the ways that religious actors interact with economic life. I find that although these groups vary in their criticisms of  current globalization dynamics, they all agree that the economy, and trade, are topics of moral concern. The book reveals the values that they bring to bear on economic policies, their specific policy aims and objectives, and the varied strategies they employ to influence and shape trade policies.

 In the final chapter of the book, “Encouraging Religious Communities to Promote the Common Good,” I note that one of the key challenges faith communities face is convincing their members that markets are a moral issue. Others (like Steensland in The Quiet Hand of God: Faith-Based Activism and the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism) have argued that it is a central task of churches to raise moral questions about the market; I assert that it is the job of religious communities to “make the market part of one’s religious consciousness.”  But this is a connection that takes work.  After analyzing the values, political goals, and strategies of different groups, I end with three suggestions for ways religious actors can help people make connections between their faith and economics. First, we have to talk more about what it means to live in community and practice community.  Lots of Christian and non-Christian groups focus on the importance of community over the individual.  But especially in the consumer-driven environment of the West, that isn’t easy.  Helping people understand how to prioritize community is an important task of religious leaders.  Second, religious authorities need to use their moral voices to speak into economic life.  With the rise of the ‘religious right’ in the 80s, many progressive religious actors have been wary to bring religious perspectives into political debates.  But studies of more justice-oriented and progressive political movements have shown that these movements sometimes lack strong ethical and religious voices.  Finally, I argue that many Christians are overwhelmed by discussions about economic policies or the international political economy.  Connecting such macro-level issues with personal experiences is essential. My hope is that as Christians, we might actually become more like Harry Potter fans, willing to engage in political action, as we recognize that a host of economic policies impact our ability to live in true community and right relationship with others.

The Church, Immigration, and Advocacy

As I also wrote about last summer, August 15th marked an important change in immigration policy, when young adults without official documentation were able to apply for two-year stays in the country, without fear of deportation. Today we also face the possibility of a significant change to the system.  A bipartisan “Gang of 8” proposal for immigration reform was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill, which heads to the Senate next week, will provide a path to legalization and citizenship for a number of immigrants living in the country, as well as tighten security.

Immigration is an issue where most in the United States see a need to act. A recent Pew Report reveals that almost ¾ of U.S citizens polled think there should be legal options for those without legal status to stay.  Most identify it as a key issue facing the country.  At this time when significant reforms could be enacted, the voices of religious leaders are especially important.

The video above was produced by the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group of evangelicals and other religious activists. They  have received some recent attention in the news for their calls (and prayers) for bipartisan reform.  While I’m quite disappointed by the fact that the heads of the coalition are all male, there is a diversity of political leanings and racial make-up of the actors and organizations behind the movement.    Yet even as evangelicals are now engaged, other religious leaders have long been active in efforts to support immigrants in the United States. I’m particularly excited to read Grace Yukich’s forthcoming book, One Family Under God (Oxford University Press), which focuses on more progressive religious activities who are often not profiled. While white evangelicals tend to be noticeably absent from the activists she studies, many of the religious concepts these actors use could resonate with many in the evangelical population.









I increasingly encounter evangelicals considering (or involved in the process of) international adoption.  A majority of my students—mostly evangelical—have been abroad and involved with mission trips. As Christians continue to go around the world to love our neighbors, it’s imperative that we also more seriously consider what it means to love neighbors here in the United State. As this group that increasingly includes immigrants (documented and undocumented), the issue of immigration reform will impact the lives of millions.  Even for the most politically uninterested, this is an issue that demands our attention, prayers, and action.

Liberal Women Wish for More Sex. Why?

OK, I’ve been at it again, meaning that I’ve been exploring associations between various measures in the New Family Structures Study (the NFSS). I realize I’ve treated readers to blog entries like this before, including here, here, and here, but I can’t help myself. Such are social science data nerds. I’ve come across another puzzle worth sharing with you.

At the risk of sounding blunt, crass, and insensitive, the NFSS data clearly reveal that—for whatever reason—more politically liberal 18-39-year-old women report wanting more sex than they’ve been having. (No such association appears among men. In keeping with nearly all research on sexuality and gender, men display less variance on most matters sexual.)

Here’s how we know. The NFSS posed this question to respondents:

Are you content with the amount of sex you are having?

Respondents could answer in one of three ways: (1) Yes; (2) No, I’d prefer more; or (3) No, I’d prefer less. Now, before you throw around claims of misogyny, take some comfort in knowing that I don’t think answer #3 is somehow inherently more correct than #2. Good grief. My job here is interpretation.

Here are the simple numbers: 16% of “very conservative” women say they’d prefer more, compared with 29% of conservative women, 31% of moderates, 47% of liberals, and 50% of “very liberal” women.

It’s generally linear, with the most notable bump between moderates and liberals. More politically-liberal women are quite clearly apt to say they’d prefer more.


And, remarkably, it isn’t much affected by how much sex they’ve actually had recently. That is, while greater recent frequency of sex predicts less desire for more sex, it does nothing to diminish the link between political liberalism and wanting more sex. And women of all political stripes report statistically-comparable frequency of sex.

In regression models, the measure of political liberalism remains significantly associated with the odds of wanting more sex even after controlling for the frequency of actual intercourse over the past two weeks, their age, marital status, education level, whether they’ve masturbated recently, their anxiety level, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, depressive symptoms, and porn use. Many of these are significant predictors of wanting more sex. And still the political thing matters.

I realize I’m a geek for statistics in this domain, but that is interesting, and begs for interpretation. I’ve said elsewhere—in Chapter 6 of my second book and blogged about here, here, and here—that measures of political conservatism or liberalism are clearly reflecting more than just Republican or Democratic Party affiliation or voting habits. No, they’re about people’s embedded-ness in distinctive worldviews and sets of meanings.

With regard to sex and sexuality, being more liberal means being more likely to value sexual expression as a good-in-itself, not only a means to an end or contingent on the context (such as being in a relationship, or being married). Talk of “sexual health” is also more common among them and typically assumes acts of sexual expression. In this perspective, persons have almost a moral obligation to express their sexuality in actions of their own choosing; pleasure is reached for, and should be. Sexual expression among them is perceived in personal terms at least as much as it is in relational ones (I’m thinking of how people talk about their sex life.) Note, for example, how the Lena Dunham political ad mightily aggravated conservative sentiments about sexuality. Obama twentysomethings generally thought it was clever and cute.

All that may be true, but I’m still not sure it explains why liberal women want more sex, regardless of how much they’re already having.

I floated this to a female friend, an economist, who offered this four-part theory:

1. More liberal women are less likely to be religious. (In the NFSS and other datasets, she’s correct in this).

2. Given that, more liberal women are therefore more likely to have a difficult time attributing transcendent value to aspects of life such as their work, relationships, children, and daily tasks. Some scholars speak of this as “sanctifying daily life.” In other words, liberal women are less apt to conceive of mundane, material life as imbued with or reflecting the sacred.

3. Nevertheless, most people experience sexual expression as–in some significant way–transcendent, or higher-than-other-experiences.

4. More liberal women therefore want to have more sex because they feel the lack of sufficient transcendence in life. If sex is one of the few pathways to it, then it’s sensible to desire more of it.

Basically, liberal women substitute sex for religion. (A data-less argument of sorts toward that end was serendipitously made on yesterday.)

So I added religious service attendance to the regression model described earlier, predicting wanting more sex, and—wouldn’t you know it—political liberalism finally went silent as a predictor. Barely.

Other theories are welcome…


Democrats: Losing their Religion

It’s election week, and we’re inundated with polls, predictions, and predilections, so I’ll keep this short. While I was crunching NFSS data for an unrelated set of analyses, I stopped to dwell on an interesting survey question on perceived change in religiousness. We asked the 2,988 respondents:

Compared to today, were you more or less active in organized religion when you were growing up?

Given that we’re talking to 18-39-year-olds, and that young adulthood can often exhibit a notable decline in religiousness—something I’ve written about more extensively here and here—and that former US senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum misinterpreted here, it’s of course not at all surprising to see that most respondents said they were less active in organized religion now than when they were growing up. Fully 53 percent said that, whereas 34 percent said they were “about the same” and 13 percent reported being “more active” than when they were younger. But what aggravates these numbers in either direction?

My first guess is that age and marriage are apt to boost religiosity in some who had been flagging, while sexual “deviance” (from religious expectations about it) can cause it to lag some. Keep in mind, of course, that the question begs an unknown answer about just how religious respondents were when they were “growing up,” so a “more active” or a “less active” response is connected to a level known to them, but not to us. So be it. It’s still illuminating: only 8 percent of the youngest group (18-23-year-olds) reported becoming more religiously active, compared with 13 and 18 percent of the older two groups (24-32 and 33-39-year-olds, respectively). Makes sense.

Both married and divorced respondents reported comparable levels of growing religiousness, at 18-19 percent, while 63 percent of cohabiters said they had become less religious.

The most dramatic shifts, however, appear around personal politics. Political affiliation—a one measure, 1-5 scale of just how politically conservative or liberal our respondents consider themselves—takes the cake for shifting the bar on perceived growth or decline in organized religious involvement. Only 23 percent of respondents who said they were “very conservative” politically reported being less active in organized religion today, while 31 percent said they were more active than as a youth. Keep in mind that’s compared with 53 and 13 percent of the total population, respectively.

It’s a linear association, too: 48 percent of just plain “conservative” respondents reported being less active religiously, compared with 52 percent of moderates, 62 percent of those who said they were “liberal” and 76 percent of those who self-identified as “very liberal.” That’s quite a span–from 23 percent (among the most conservative) to 76 percent (among the most liberal).

The Democrats truly are losing their religion. Or perhaps these are persons who lost their religion and then decided the Democratic Party seemed most in line with their sentiments. There is probably plenty of both types.

This is not new news, I know. See here. But it’s heartwarming and confirming to me to see the NFSS data continue to make rational sense in so many domains of research questions, even while critics remain convinced that I got the basic story wrong in the July Social Science Research article on the adult children of parents who’ve had same-sex relationships. (I didn’t.)

Happy voting…