Ruth Braunstein is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, where she is Director of Undergraduate Studies and Director of the Meanings of Democracy Lab. Ruth's award-winning research has been published in the American Sociological Review, the American Journal of Cultural Sociology, Contexts, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Political Power and Social Theory, Sociology of Religion, Theory and Society, and Qualitative Sociology, among other outlets. Her research has been covered in the New York Times, Washington Post, Time Magazine, Huffington Post, New York Magazine, National Catholic Reporter and Religion News Service, among other outlets, and recent writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Conversation, and the New York Daily News.
Her first book, Prophets and Patriots: Faith in Democracy Across the Political Divide, is a comparative ethnographic study of progressive faith-based community organizing and Tea Party activism. She is also the co-editor of a volume exploring the role of religion in progressive politics, entitled Religion and Progressive Activism: New Stories About Faith and Politics.
Her current book project, My Tax Dollars: The Sacred Taxpayer and the Almighty Dollar (under contract with Princeton University Press), examines how the mundane act of taxpaying can, under certain circumstances, become infused with intense moral significance -- sometimes positive, sometimes negative -- with major implications for American politics and institutions.
She is a Faculty Fellow at the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University, and has previously been a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University's Center for the Study of Religion; a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) Public Fellow; a Public Discourse Project Faculty Fellow; and an American Fellow of AAUW. She was also a core faculty member of the UConn Humanities Institute’s Humility and Conviction in Public Life Project.
Ruth is a former Associate Editor of Sociology of Religion and serves on the Editorial Boards of the American Sociological Review, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Sociological Forum, and Qualitative Sociology. She served for several years on the inaugural editorial board of The Immanent Frame, a digital forum on secularism, religion and the public sphere published by the Social Science Research Council. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute).
Areas of Expertise (6)
Taxes and Taxpaying
Religion Politics & Culture
Sociology of Religion
New York University: Ph.D., Sociology 2013
New York University: M.A., Sociology 2008
Georgetown University: B.S., Foreign Service 2003
- Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI): Member, Board of Directors
- Center for Cultural Sociology, Yale University : Faculty Fellow
- Public Discourse Project : Faculty Fellow
- AAUW : American Fellow
Faculty Mentor Award, University of Connecticut's Department of Sociology
Distinguished Early Career Award, American Sociological Association's Religion Section
Media Appearances (5)
Protest Convoy Headed to Southern Border Is Calling Itself an ‘Army of God’
Experts say that the Christian nationalist overtones in this rhetoric adds a dangerous dimension to an already fraught situation. “When people believe that they are working on behalf of God, they might be willing to resort to relatively extreme measures,” said Ruth Braunstein, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut and author of “Prophets and Patriots: Faith in Democracy Across the Political Divide.” ”And so you have a politically volatile situation that could become much more so, in part because of this rhetoric.”
Why a Group of Christians Is Fighting the Growing Threat of Christian Nationalism
Time Magazine online
This level of religious fervor in service of a political—and ultimately violent—cause was shocking to many Americans, though experts argue it shouldn’t have been. “The riot was a pitch perfect performance of the kind of white Christian nationalism that has ebbed and flowed throughout American history,” Ruth Braunstein, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut who studies the movement, wrote in February 2021.
In Branson, God and country serve as red, white and blue comfort food
Religion News Service online
“There really is a much more sort of common and almost moderate seeming way of thinking about the United States that talks more broadly about something like Judeo-Christian values or the idea that, you know, why can’t we all just be, you know, good Americans and proud of the country and the flag,” Braunstein said.
The Religious Right’s Agenda Is Center Stage Again -- And It’s As Unpopular As Ever
The Huffington Post online
“He said things out loud that previous presidents had been more measured in talking about,” said Ruth Braunstein, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut and an expert on the religious right. “And he was not in any way as concerned about presenting a pluralist America. That was incredibly satisfying to white evangelicals, to feel seen in that way.”
The MAGA Formula Is Getting Darker and Darker
New York Times print
Ruth Braunstein, a professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut and the author of the 2021 paper “The ‘Right’ History: Religion, Race, and Nostalgic Stories of Christian America,” wrote by email that Christian nationalism can be described "as adherence to a mythical vision of the United States as a 'Christian nation' that must be protected and preserved. This mythology has two dimensions: It offers an account of American history that frames the country’s founding as sacred and rooted in Christian (or Judeo-Christian) values, and it defines a 'real' or 'good' American today as someone committed to these same values."
Anti-IRS fearmongering, ‘law and order’ and the GOPNew York Daily News
As the midterm elections approach, Republican leaders are raising the alarm about a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that would invest $80 billion in the Internal Revenue Service to modernize outdated technology and increase enforcement of tax laws. Citing this investment, Sen. Ted Cruz warned of a menacing “shadow army of 87,000 IRS agents.” And just last week, he proposed a radical solution: “Abolish the IRS!” The Republican Party as a whole has embraced the anti-IRS talking point. When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy rolled out the GOP’s “Commitment to America” in late September, he announced the party’s first order of business if they regained control of Congress: “On our very first bill,” he proclaimed, “we’re going to repeal 87,000 IRS agents.”
How the threat of ‘taxpayer-funded abortion’ is being used to mobilize conservative religious votersThe Conversation
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the wave of state-level abortion bans that followed, it might appear that anti-abortion activists could declare victory and go home. However, from their perspective, a major threat still looms: Their tax dollars may be used to fund abortion in states where abortion is legal. As it currently stands, several policies are in place that almost entirely prevent federal funds from being used to directly pay for abortion services. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has prohibited the public funding of abortion through Medicaid except in rare exceptions. In the years since, “Hyde-like restrictions” have been added to other federal healthcare programs, as well as to private insurance plans purchased through the health insurance exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act.
How did Republican fearmongering about an IRS ‘shadow army’ go mainstream?The Guardian
Among the many subplots roiling Washington DC is a surge in Republican concern about a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that would invest $80bn in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to modernize outdated technology and increase enforcement of tax laws. Citing this investment, Senator Ted Cruz warned of a coming “shadow army of 87,000 IRS agents”. The preference to pay lower taxes is as American as apple pie and has been a centerpiece of modern Republicanism. Demonizing the IRS is not. In fact, mainstream Republicans have historically maintained a commitment to cutting taxes without promoting hysterical fears about the enforcers of tax laws. When champions of tax cuts have talked of “starving the beast”, even they have been clear that the beast is big government. The IRS is just the messenger.
The backlash against rightwing evangelicals is reshaping American politics and faithThe Guardian
What if I were to tell you that the following trends in American religion were all connected: rising numbers of people who are religiously unaffiliated (“nones”) or identify as “spiritual but not religious”; a spike in positive attention to the “religious left”; the depoliticization of liberal religion; and the purification and radicalization of the religious right? As a sociologist who has studied American religion and politics for many years, I have often struggled to make sense of these dramatic but seemingly disconnected changes. I now believe they all can all be explained, at least in part, as products of a backlash to the religious right.
Historical Fundamentalism? Christian Nationalism and Ignorance About Religion in American Political HistoryJournal for the Scientific Study of Religion
2021 Religious right leaders often promulgate views of Christianity's historical preeminence, privilege, and persecution in the United States that are factually incorrect, suggesting credulity, ignorance, or perhaps, a form of ideologically motivated ignorance on the part of their audience. This study examines whether Christian nationalism predicts explicit misconceptions regarding religion in American political history and explores theories about the connection. Analyzing nationally representative panel data containing true/false statements about religion's place in America's founding documents, policies, and court decisions, Christian nationalism is the strongest predictor that Americans fail to affirm factually correct answers. This association is stronger among whites compared to black Americans and religiosity actually predicts selecting factually correct answers once we account for Christian nationalism. [...]
Religion, Politics, and Public Funding for AbortionJournal for the Scientific Study of Religion
2021 An abundance of research examines Americans’ attitudes toward abortion legality and morality with particular attention to polarization around this issue and the influence of social movements, religious organizations, the media, and political leaders. There is a relative dearth, however, of research focusing on attitudes toward the public funding of abortion services. Using three national, random samples of American adults, we address this gap in the literature. We find that the oft-cited “bipartisan consensus” around opposition to public funding of abortion is a myth. In fact, there is more bipartisan consensus around abortion legality than abortion funding, across religious traditions. As national debates about abortion funding intensify, these findings underscore the importance of future surveys consistently measuring Americans’ attitudes toward public funding of abortion, above and beyond abortion legality or morality.
A Theory of Political Backlash: Assessing the Religious Right’s Effects on the Religious FieldSociology of Religion
2021 A growing body of evidence suggests that the rise in religious disaffiliation can be partly attributed to a political backlash against the Religious Right. Yet the concept of “political backlash” remains undertheorized, limiting our ability to evaluate how backlash against the Religious Right has impacted the religious field as a whole. This article develops a general account of how political backlash against a radical actor can impact participants within a given field, distinguishing between broad backlash, narrow backlash, and counter backlash. It then applies this framework to the case of the religious field. An analysis of available evidence suggests that backlash against the Religious Right has had ripple effects beyond the rise of the “nones,” including a rise in “spiritual” identification, positive attention to the “Religious Left,” depoliticization of liberal religion, and purification and radicalization within the Religious Right itself. This article encourages religion scholars to connect dots between trends that have not been understood as related, and deepens our understanding of the relational nature of religious change. More generally, it offers a framework for understanding how backlash against radical actors can shape entire fields.