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November 11, 2019

Politics, Sex and Religion Focus of Avila Professor’s Latest Book

The interplay of politics, sex and religion in the United States concerns Leslie Dorrough Smith, associate professor of religious studies at Avila University, in her most recent book, “Compromising Positions: Sex Scandals, Politics, and American Christianity,” published on November 1 by Oxford University Press.

Investigating the complex connections between political power, religious influence and sexual dynamics is a natural fit for Dorrough Smith, who said she is fascinated by the utilization of religion as a form of power.

“There are lots of things you can do in the name of religion that you can’t do if you don’t have religious backing,” Dorrough Smith said. “Politicians use appeals to religions all the time because it is a very effective legitimizing tool. I don’t think I’m kicking the hornet’s nest, so to speak, but I am trying to draw attention to the effects this behavior has on society.”

Focused on U.S. politics at the local, state and national levels since the Second World War, Dorrough Smith finds that the influence of religious thought in forming public opinion perhaps contributes to a “forgive and forget” culture when it comes to sexual infidelity in American politicians.

“A very specific type of evangelical Christianity is so much a part of our consciousness in the U.S. and that form of Christianity breeds certain ideas about gender,” she said. “Among them is the idea that men are just sort of sexually promiscuous no matter what, and that real men almost can’t help themselves. The amount of that form of evangelical Christianity coursing through our culture—whether you practice that form or not, it’s there—means that we anticipate to some degree our male politicians will engage in sex scandals.”

“Compromising Positions” is her second authored book, following 2014’s “Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America,” which identified aggressive and fear-mongering rhetoric as a main source of power for politically-conservative women’s groups. She also recently served as lead editor for “Constructing “Data” in Religious Studies: Examining the Architecture of the Academy,” a collection of essays presented at the 2017 North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) Annual Meeting.

Dorrough Smith is scheduled to present at the 2019 NAASR Annual Meeting on November 22 in San Diego, where her paper, “Teaching the Field” will be discussed in forum.

“Religious studies programs like we have at Avila are committed to the social and cultural study of religion, with less emphasis on confessional or theological study,” Smith said. “With NAASR, our aim is to look at the historical and social factors that make religion, religion. We discuss method and theory – how are we teaching religion, what biases are we bringing into the classroom and what baggage do researchers bring to their studies?”

For more information and to order "Compromising Positions: Sex Scandals, Politics, and American Christianity," please click here. For information about Avila’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, visit its homepage here.

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