Trends in the Practices and Rhetoric of Religious Organizations and Leaders in 21st Century America

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This dissertation investigates three areas where religious leaders have confronted changes in the modern world. In Chapter 2, I investigate trends in congregational worship towards more enthusiastic and contemporary styles to determine the extent to which this trend is driven by congregations adapting or congregations dying and being replaced. I find that, in contrast with the expectations of the strongest versions of population ecology theories, the overwhelming majority of change is the result of congregations themselves changing, though this varies by religious tradition. In Chapter 3, I examine which congregations were prepared to shift their worship to an online format on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic. I find that, in addition to technological know-how and financial resources, contemporary worship practices and religious tradition were strong, independent predictors of streaming and recording capabilities. This suggests that cultural factors, and not just financial or technological resources, were important in enabling an effective response to the pandemic. In Chapter 4, I study the rhetoric of evangelical opinion leaders on immigration and Islam before and after Donald Trump rose to political prominence. I find that evangelical leaders were already discussing immigration and especially Islam with frames of foreign threat even before Trump became politically relevant, and this did not meaningfully shift in the Trump era. Taken together, these studies advance knowledge of how religious leaders and institutions are continuing to interact with an ever-changing modern world.






Roso, Joseph (2023). Trends in the Practices and Rhetoric of Religious Organizations and Leaders in 21st Century America. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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