New Religion Research from Baylor University: American Values, Mental Health, and Technology in the Age of Trump

By Ken Howard

We now take a break from our series on Vision-Guided Experimentation to explore some cutting edge research on the boundary between politics, values, mental health, and technology with a review of the results of the latest survey by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR), American Values, Mental Health, and Use of Technology in the Age of Trump.

Given the angry division over anything Trump, it may be worthwhile to start with some bona fides.

Baylor University (BU) is a private, theologically conservative, Evangelical (Baptist) university in Waco, Texas. ISR is a well-respected research organization, dedicated to observing rigorous standards of scientific objectivity while treating the study of religion with “the respect that sacred matters require and deserve.” Its mandate extends to all religions, everywhere, and throughout history, and embraces the study of religious effects on such things as prosocial behavior, family life, population health, economic development, and social conflict. This is ISR’s fifth “wave” of research findings on religion and society since 2005.

Conducted and authored by Paul Froese and several others, Baylor Religion Survey (Wave 5) is really four surveys rolled into one, with focuses on: (1) the spectrum of religious, political, and ideological views that inform how people vote, including (for obvious reasons) where Trump voters fit into that spectrum, (2) faith and mental health, (3) technology and religion, and (4) geography.

Section 1 – The Sacred Values of Trumpism, is perhaps the most timely of the four. Despite it’s attention-getting title, it should be noted that the first section of the report is NOT about Trump voters, per se/only, but rather, of self-reported values and attitudes from people across the political spectrum that informed how they voted and their positions on issues. Within that spectrum, it examines the core religious values of Trump voters as part of a larger movement, reporting some interesting findings, some of which may have disturbing implications, including a rapidly rising fear of the “Other” and the growth of Christian nationalism among those voters.

Specifically, they found the following to be overwhelmingly true of that larger movement that includes Trump voters:

  • They say they are “very religious” (57%).
  • They see Muslims (74%) and refugees (81%) as a threat to the nation, their physical safety, and their freedom.
  • They view the United States as a Christian nation, that should promote Christian values (72%).
  • They believe in an authoritative God (51%).
  • They are high on gender traditionalism (63%) and low on LBGTQ rights (75%).

They end this section by concluding that what some call “Trumpism” is a part of a new form of nationalism which merges pro-Christian rhetoric with anti-Islam, anti-feminist, anti-globalist, and anti-government attitudes.

Section 2 – Faith and Mental Health in America explores the relationship of between mental health and religion in America today, and finds that religion can be either good or bad for one’s mental health depending on the set of beliefs that individual holds. For example, those for whom religion provides a sense of purpose or calling in life and a certainty about heaven tend to be less affected by mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, while those for whom religion provides a certainty of hell tend to be more affected by those same mental illnesses.

Section 3 – Old and New: Religion v. Technology 1.0 investigates the intersection of technology and religion, and finds that while more Americans are looking for faith on the internet, fewer are finding it, and many find that over the long term it interferes with their relationship with God and other people of faith, yet leaves them addicted to the online experience.

Section 4 – Location, Location, Location scrutinizes the geography of religion, with a particular interest in how far Americans are willing to “commute” to church. The answer? 15 minutes. Roughly 80% of church members drive 15 minutes or less to join their congregations for worship, whether those congregations lie in urban, suburban, or rural areas. More on this section of the report in a future blog post.

Definitely recommended reading…