Professor analyzes Republican primary rhetoric

Religious Studies professor Anthea Butler spoke at the final installation of the Lightbulb Café series

· December 7, 2011, 11:46 pm   ·  Updated January 12, 2012, 8:04 pm

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The rhetoric of the Republican primaries took center stage Dec. 7 as Religious Studies professor Anthea Butler provided analysis and predictions for the upcoming elections.
A noted writer and blogger on the topic of religion in politics and culture, Butler is a frequent media commentator who has been featured on news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, National Public Radio and Fox News.

The lecture, held at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, centered on the religious language employed by candidates to frame their discussion of policy issues and the Constitution throughout the primary season,and especially on their campaign trail leading up to the Iowa Caucus this January.
“If you’re not … attuned to buzz words, you will miss everything that’s going on around you,” Butler said, adding that it will be important to “have a listening ear for what is about to happen when we start the primaries.”

Butler discussed the influence of the Evangelical Christian voters on election outcomes, and the shift in candidates’ campaign strategies in order to gain the support of that constituency. She analyzed the religious background of each Republican candidate, showing video clips of their speeches and public statements. Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry released a video yesterday, where he emphasized the importance of faith in his political views.

Butler said religion started playing an important role in campaign rhetoric during the 2008 election, citing Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s speech at Plumstead Christian School, an independent nondenominational Christian school outside of Philadelphia. Palin’s ways of speech “resonate with people,” Butler said. “[She] set the stage for the 2012 election.”

President Obama’s current campaign for re-election has begun to borrow this type of language. “Obama has to make Christian statements time and time again, and has to continually reinforce his faith,” Butler said, while other candidates are already well known for their religious views. “He has to re-tack for who he will be running against,” she added.

College senior Kelsey Ferguson attended the event because it was relevant to her senior thesis topic. “[Butler’s] projections about the election were very interesting … as was her idea that this is going to be one of the most important elections in terms of candidates,” she said.

The event is the third and final part of this semester’s Lightbulb Café series, which news officer for University Communications Jacquie Posey explained is meant to “spotlight the newsmakers in the fields of arts, humanities and social sciences.”

“This talk was fascinating — I think we had a great response and I was heartened by the turnout in spite of the inclement weather,” said Posey, who coordinated the event.

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