USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Politics, Divisions, Elections and Thriving Congregations

Politics, Divisions, Elections and Thriving Congregations

Politics, Divisions, Elections and Thriving Congregations

We often hear that politics and religion should never be broached in polite conversation. We beg to differ, and instead believe that both politics and religion tell us much about our personal and corporate lives. How can church leaders use the inevitable political divisions within congregations as a vehicle through which they can strengthen and develop?

Watch the panel, the third in a three-part conversation on Thriving Congregations:


Andrew L. Whitehead is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives ( at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI.

Whitehead’s research focuses on how religion both shapes and is shaped by contemporary American culture. He is the author of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2020) and over three dozen peer-reviewed journal articles. In 2019 his co-authored article “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election” (Sociology of Religion, 2018) won the Distinguished Article Award for both the Association for the Sociology of Religion and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Whitehead’s research has been featured across several national outlets including The New Yorker, The Washington Post, CNN Today, Salon, and The Guardian and he is routinely contacted for perspective on religion and politics from national and international news media. Along with his work on Christian nationalism, Whitehead’s current research focus also explores childhood disability and religion.

Russell M. Jeung is a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. His research interests include the Sociology of Race, the Sociology of Religion, and Social Movements. Dr. Jeung is extensively engaged with his students in conducting community-based, participatory research with Asian American communities. In addition, he has co-produced with Valerie Soe the documentary, The Oak Park Story (2010), about a landmark housing lawsuit involving his fellow Cambodian and Latino tenants.

In 2020, Dr. Jeung launched Stop AAPI Hate, a project of Chinese for Affirmative Action, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, and SF State Asian American Studies. It tracks Covid-19 related discrimination in order to develop community resources and policy interventions to fight racism.

About Conversation on Thriving Congregations

Conversations on Thriving Congregations is part of Reimagining Church Initiative at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. This initiative seeks to bring church leaders together to reimagine the possibilities for creating thriving congregations both in how they provide deep meaning and community for their members, and in developing programming and presence in their host communities.

The conversations are intended to lay groundwork for developing a community of church leaders who are seeking a space in which to share their experience and insights and to learn from other church, academic and community leaders.

Your Hosts:

Richard Flory is senior director of research and evaluation at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. He is a sociologist whose research focuses on religious and cultural change, religion and urban life, and the religious and spiritual lives of youth and young adults. Professor Flory has published several books, most recently, Back Pocket God: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press, 2020). Flory frequently speaks at conferences and with faith groups.

Rev. Najuma Smith-Pollard is program manager for the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement where she combines her experience as a pastor and expertise as a community leader to run programs that train pastors to take on civic engagement work. Smith-Pollard also is a pastor, motivational speaker, author, life coach, radio personality and community activist. She has served as Assistant Pastor and Pastor of Family Ministries at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, California; Pastor of A.K. Quinn AME Church in Moreno Valley, California; and Pastor of St. James AME Church in Los Angeles, California. In 2014, Smith-Pollard launched Word of Encouragement Community Church (WOECC.ORG) in Los Angeles. She is a frequent speaker at churches and church conferences.

The Reimagining Church Initiative is supported by a grant from The Lilly Endowment.