New article out in Science Advances — Discordant Benevolence: How and why people help others in the face of conflicting values

I’m excited to have a new article out in Science Advances with a stellar group of collaborators: Sarah K. Cowan, Brea L. Perry, Bridget Ritz, Stuart Perrett, and Elizabeth M. Anderson.

In it, we explore the phenomenon of “discordant benevolence,” which we define as help that counters another personal value. We use the example of abortion in the United States, reporting the proportion of Americans morally opposed to abortion who are nonetheless willing to support a friend or family member obtain one. Interviews from National Abortion Attitudes Study I led shed light on the rationales behind this seemingly contradictory behavior, categorized as commiseration, exemption, and discretion.

This research offers yet another reminder of the messiness of Americans’ abortion attitudes — and a caution against narrow presumptions based upon available labels. It’s also an example of how attitudes play out not just in the ballot box, but in real life and relationship with others.

Read the full Science Advances article for free here.

Sample Media Coverage:

MSN; American Independent; The Nation; Breitbart; Science Alert; more…


What happens when a request for help from friends or family members invokes conflicting values? In answering this question, we integrate and extend two literatures: support provision within social networks and moral decision-making. We examine the willingness of Americans who deem abortion immoral to help a close friend or family member seeking one. Using data from the General Social Survey and 74 in-depth interviews from the National Abortion Attitudes Study, we find that a substantial minority of Americans morally opposed to abortion would enact what we call discordant benevolence: providing help when doing so conflicts with personal values. People negotiate discordant benevolence by discriminating among types of help and by exercising commiseration, exemption, or discretion. This endeavor reveals both how personal values affect social support processes and how the nature of interaction shapes outcomes of moral decision-making.

Panel: Whatever Happened to the Common Good?

I’m excited to participate in an online dialogue featuring Matthew Dowd (chief strategist for the the 2004 Bush campaign and an ABC News political analyst, author, candidate for lieutenant governor of Texas), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) (longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives), and Vincent Rougeau (president of the College of the Holy Cross), sponsored by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

Here’s what to expect:

This online dialogue will lift up the neglected principle of the common good; explore how it has been undermined in the United States’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as through political combat and religious divisions; and look for ways forward to advance the common good and meet our national challenges.

The United States has lost a sense of the common good as our politics have become more polarized and dysfunctional. Our capacity to come together to overcome a pandemic and other challenges has been overwhelmed by bitter political and ideological disputes. Religious faith, which should lift up the common good, has instead often been politicized and misused to advance narrow partisan and ideological agendas.

A senior member of Congress, a political analyst who has worked for Democrats and Republicans, a sociologist who has studied what unites and divides us, and the new president of the College of the Holy Cross will assess how this has happened, its costs, and how can we recover a sense of the common good in these times of division and anger. They will also explore how Catholic social thought offers a path to the pursuit of the common good.

John Carr, co-director of the Initiative, will moderate the conversation. He served for more than 25 years as director of the justice and peace efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The panel will take place Tuesday, December 7, 12:30-1:30pm EST via live stream.

RVSP here to attend.

New Report on Catholic Women and the Diaconate

I’m thrilled to share a new report summarizing findings from an in-depth interview study I conducted on Catholic women and the diaconate: Called to Contribute.

Together with my research team (Cella Masso-Rivetti of New York University and Jennifer Sherman of Georgetown University), we found that Catholic women feel called into service, constrained by barriers to ordination and service reserved for men in the Church, must adapt creatively to do “de facto deacon” ministry anyway, and contribute in ways that uphold the very foundations of the local and global Catholicism.

Read the executive summary in English or Spanish and download the full report here.

Responses to the report:

“This study provides an excellent insight into the plight of Catholic women already serving in diaconal ministries across the country and around the world. That so many women find themselves called and accepted by their local communities as “quasi-deacons” is a clear sign of the ways the Church is growing to recognize women as truly representing Christ in the world.”

Phyllis Zagano, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, author of Women: Icons of Christ (Paulist, 2020)

“This report on extensive interviews with US Catholic women both acknowledges the fact of how many women are and have long been engaged in the work of diakonia but have been constrained by their exclusion from ordination to the diaconate. These women talk about discernment and their own creativity in the service of the Church. Reading this report will broaden your understanding about the sense of call that is experienced and counter any notions that a desire for ordination is a form of clericalism.”

Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., Diocese of Lexington, KY

“I read this report with tears and rapt attention: to put a structure and language on the real lived experience of women in ministry. This report is a gift. For me, for our sisters in ministry, for our Church.”

Bridget Deegan-Krause, Board Certified Chaplain, Mission and Formation consultant, Catholic Health Care and member of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains

To join broader conversations regarding the possibility of women deacons in the Catholic Church, check out the rapidly growing movement, Discerning Deacons.

Election as Chair of the ASA Religion Section

I’m honored by my election to serve as Chair of the Religion Section for the American Sociological Association! This group has been such a valuable part of my own development and engagement as a sociologist of religion. Its work is more vibrant and vital than ever, as we navigate new religious realities and social consequences for religion in North America and beyond. I hope all will join us when we meet next August 2022 in Los Angeles, California…our first in-person gathering in two years! Until then, keep up with Section happenings on Twitter and the section website.

“This Kind and That Kind of Catholic”…New Essay in Georgetown University’s Berkley Forum

The latest essay forum hosted by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center invited contributors to reflect on President Joe Biden and Catholicism in U.S. Politics. What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for Catholic engagement in American domestic and foreign policy at the start of the Biden administration?

My essay — “This Kind and That Kind of Catholic” — appears alongside great contributions David Gibson, Maureen Day, John Gehring, Drew Christiansen, Meghan Clark, Kristy Nabhan-Warren, Miguel Diaz, M. Shawn Copeland, and Paul Manuel. Thanks to the Center for fostering this meaningful and timely exchange.

Fordham University Webinar on the American Abortion Debate

“Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Post-Roe? New Prospects for the Abortion Debate in America”

If you missed the Fordham University Webinar hosted by the Center on Religion and Culture that I participated in alongside Katelyn Beaty, Mary Ziegler, Gloria Purvis, and host/Center Director David Gibson, read about it or watch a recording of the event here! Thanks also to the Catholic News Service for this summary of our panel conversation.

Guest Appearance on America Trends Podcast

My appearance on America Trends Podcast is now live! Listen here or download from your favorite podcast player. Thanks to Larry Rifkin for the invitation to engage the topic of abortion attitudes on the eve of the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Episode description:

You may not really know how people feel about abortion because no one likes to talk about the issue. The sense you get from reading about abortion is that it divides people very neatly into camps-pro-life or pro-choice. The truth is that once you sit down and discuss the issue with everyday Americans their views are much more difficult to categorize in neat buckets. That’s according to Tricia Bruce, PhD., of the University of Notre Dame, who led a team of five sociologists in the definitive study called ‘How Americans Understand Abortion’. People seem to grasp the gravity of the decision and the many factors that weigh into a woman’s decision. In fact, one out of four women who agreed to be part of a survey on a major ‘social issue’, unaware when agreeing that it was abortion, had had one. A major finding was that abortion is not merely a political issue, but an intimately personal one which involves not just life, but the notion of what is a good life for the mother and the child. And while Americans don’t ‘want’ abortion, most recognized its place in the sphere of reproductive rights a woman should have an ability to choose, even if they want strict limitations placed on it. Learn more about what Americans truly feel about one of the most contentious issues in the public realm.

Pro-life. Pro-Choice. Post Roe? (Webinar)

All are welcome to join this webinar discussion sponsored by Fordham University’s Center for Religion and Culture! I look forward to participating. Find details and RSVP info below.

New prospects for the abortion debate in America
A Fordham Center on Religion and Culture Webinar
January 27, 2021 | 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. EST

Views on abortion rights in the United States have remained almost unchanged over the years while the politics of abortion have grown more polarized and partisan. Is there a way forward? Will events force a change in the debate? While the Supreme Court’s conservative composition could overturn Roe v. Wade, the incoming President, a Catholic, is vowing to protect abortion rights.

This webinar brings together experts and faith-based voices who provide new perspectives on the legal, political, and social dynamics of today’s increasingly intense argument over abortion rights and the chances of a fundamental change in that debate.


Tricia Bruce is a sociologist of religion and an affiliate of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society. Last summer she published a study, “How Americans Understand Abortion”, the largest in-depth interview study of American attitudes on abortion.

Mary Ziegler, a professor of law at Florida State University, is one of the foremost authorities on the legal history of the American abortion debate. Her most recent book, Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present (2020), traces the legal history of the abortion debate from the recognition of a right to choose to “the likely undoing of Roe today.”

Gloria Purvis is a Catholic radio host and popular media commentator. She served on the National Black Catholic Congress’s Leadership Commission on Social Justice and describes herself as “dedicated to promoting the sanctity of human life, marriage, and the dignity of the human person.”

Katelyn Beaty is a former managing editor of Christianity Today, the flagship evangelical magazine, and an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post. She is an acquisitions editor for Brazos Press and is writing a book about celebrity in the church.

David Gibson, director of Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture, will moderate the discussion, including questions from the online audience. RSVP for Pro-Life. Pro-Choice. Post-Roe?

Where Catholicism Lives

Kudos to organizers at the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University (Durham, England) for putting together a lively virtual conference around the theme of Lived Catholicism. I was honored to give a keynote address entitled “Where Catholicism Lives” alongside keynotes from Robert Orsi, Alana Harris, and Stephen Bullivant. Thanks to Avril Baigent and team for their leadership and vision to make this happen.

Lived Catholicism continues to evolve as an arena of scholarship. I am encouraged to see so many excellent young scholars representing varied disciplines and continents continue to move it forward in creative ways!