University of Southern California

CRCC Interdisciplinary Research Group

Working Group

Religion, Politics and Culture in Southern California

Faculty Organizers: Richard Flory and Diane Winston

Please e-mail Richard Flory or Diane Winston if you are interested in participating.

Religion in Southern California involves much more than services in churches, temples and masjids. Southland religious groups and people have been active in faith-based politics for both conservative and progressive causes. Their activities have affected issues ranging from public education to gay marriage, and influenced local, state and national elections. Religion has also played a role in social and cultural contexts, ranging from Hollywood fare to law enforcement to community organizing

How do religion, culture and politics intermingle in Southern California? The area is arguably the most diverse region in the U.S., including groups representing a broad range of racial and ethnic groups, immigrants from almost every country in the world, and, religious expressions to match. Not only does this diversity of people, culture and religion define the region, but it is also a constantly changing scene. Immigrant groups establish new congregations that help them retain elements of their countries of origin, while also adapting to the local culture and political realities. Newer forms of older religious expressions are constantly popping up: surfer churches, “emerging” synagogues, megachurches that look like shopping malls, storefront mosques, and others. Each seek authentic religious experience but many also want to engage secular society, whether through politics, culture or a little bit of both.  

Among the orienting questions in this working group are:

  • What is the role of place in how religion in southern California has been expressed and experienced over time?
  • How have religious developments in Los Angeles influenced religious movements across the U.S. and throughout the world?
  • How have religious developments in Los Angeles influenced local and national politics?
  • What peculiar combustions ignite religion in Los Angeles?
  • In what ways do religion and power and/or religion and money commingle in Los Angeles?
  • How do elements of southern California popular culture like celebrity, showmanship/production, and surf/skate/casual lifestyle influence the way that religion is expressed and experienced?
  • How is religion expressed in Southland celebrity culture and Hollywood productions?
  • How has the relationship between religion and politics (and different elites in the region) shaped southern California, and how has this changed over time?

The Religion, Politics and Culture in Southern California group is an interdisciplinary working group comprised of USC faculty and scholarly colleagues from neighboring institutions interested in the many different expressions of religion in southern California. We meet several times each semester to exchange work in progress, discuss methodological and theoretical issues, and to further our greater understanding of the historic and current role of religion in southern California.