Many Centre College students attribute their success to the personal education they receive. Not only do professors know their names but they also conduct collaborative undergraduate research with them. A case in point is work that Matthew Baker ’16 and Cammie Jo Bolin ’16 conducted with Assistant Professor of Politics Benjamin Knoll throughout the academic year and recently presented at the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) conference in Chicago.
Baker and Bolin, both politics and history double majors, used data collected by students of Knoll and Associate Professor of Politics and International Studies Chris Paskewich during a nationwide phone survey to conduct their research. When conducting the “Colonel Canvass Poll” in the spring of 2015, interviewees were asked to answer questions on several different topics, including their religious habits and political views.
Knoll, who has always been fascinated by what he calls “the link between religion and political attitudes and behaviors,” said that these projects were outgrowths of his own research interests.
Baker studied the relationship between religious elites’ attitudes toward certain immigration policies and how those attitudes affect their congregants’ own views and attitudes toward the subject. Contrary to previous research (including that done by Knoll), he found that church-goers are not politically responsive to messages from religious leaders.
“For example, the Pope has come out in support of liberal immigration policy,” he explains, “and I looked to see if that sort of thing has any discernable impact on the immigration attitudes of Catholic congregants.”
Bolin determined whether or not women who have female pastors at their church report different religious behaviors—for example, attending church services or reading their Bibles—than women with male pastors.
After reviewing literature on clergywomen, Bolin found that her research would be the first of its kind in exploring the small but significant effect that female clergy have on the religious attitudes and behaviors of women in their congregation. This research effort led to the creation of a research class during the fall semester, in which senior politics majors conducted face-to-face interviews with clergy and church-goers throughout Kentucky. Bolin is currently working alongside Knoll to turn her study into a book, which they hope to publish later this year.
Baker and Bolin have taken 15 classes together throughout their time at Centre, so they felt comfortable bouncing ideas off one another throughout the research process—or, when they got stuck, consulting Knoll during their weekly meetings. They have enjoyed working with Knoll because of his unabashed passion for what he teaches.
“Because he’s so excited about everything, we can’t help but be excited as well,” Bolin says. “We were interested in these topics going in, but doing this research with him and seeing how much he cares about it has made it all that much more engaging.”
After Knoll offered up the opportunity for the pair to attend the MPSA conference, Baker and Bolin traveled to Chicago to present their research to experts in the field. These presentations, Baker explains, made them feel as though they “genuinely accomplished something with [their] research.”
“We were able to present research that we were interested in to other people that were passionate about the same things,” he says. “Both of us talked to people who specialize in the specific areas we studied, and they were able to give us authoritative feedback. They were very complimentary of the quality of our research product and even told us that the work was publishable in an academic journal.”
Though both admitted they were nervous to share their research in a large setting, they said that their previous experiences of presenting this kind of work in Knoll’s classes helped ease their worry.
“I would have been intimidated to do this sort of thing before I came to Centre, but now researching and writing a 25-page paper, as well as conducting statistical research and presenting it at a conference, doesn’t seem intimidating,” Baker concludes. “We know that it’s doable, and that’s something that Dr. Knoll has given to us.”
Photo (top): Cammie Jo Bolin ’16 and Matthew Baker ’16 present their politics and religion research at the MPSA conference in Chicago.
by Hayley Hoffman ‘16
May 3, 2016