Collaborative Research: Local Government Officials and the Management of Religion-State Relationships

Project: Research project

Project Details


The day-to-day management of interaction between religion and government falls to hundreds of thousands of local officials, who are entrusted with decisions that impact all American citizens. This mixed-methods, nationwide study of local officials investigates how local government officials, across diverse communities, understand and manage religion-state relations. This project is designed to help the public understand how local officials can support pluralism and resolve conflicts in local communities. The project produces a public-use dataset and trade book, and it supports the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in science.

This study addresses the interaction of religion and government through a large-scale survey and in-depth interviews with elected officials. The survey is of 2500 local officials, both elected and appointed, asking about their attitudes and actions regarding religion, the state, and interaction between the two. The survey is nationally representative of officials across three forms of government (municipalities, counties, and school districts) and five governance domains (administration, policing, public health, zoning, and education). The project also includes in-depth interviews with 150 local officials sampled from the survey based on their (non)religiosity and local context. The quantitative and qualitative data are merged and analyzed, resulting in a methodological report, a public-use dataset, and research findings. The study provides the first empirical portrait of local officials' interactions with and preferences about religion, and it examines how those religion-state preferences are patterned by key individual factors (beliefs, affiliations, background) and contexts (region, municipal size, local demography). Ultimately, the research demonstrates how government officials, who often have ample discretion but limited formal guidance when it comes to religion, make decisions about how to navigate and manage religious questions and resolve potential conflicts.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/228/31/25


  • National Science Foundation: $256,408.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.