Gary John Adler Jr. Twitter

Gary John Adler, Jr.

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Faculty Affiliate, PSU Rock Ethics Institute

Faculty Affiliate, PSU Social Thought Program

515 Oswald Tower
University Park , PA 16802
Office Phone: (814) 863-5365

Office Hours:

  • By appointment.

Curriculum Vitae

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  1. Ph.D., University of Arizona
  2. M.A., University of Arizona
  3. M.A., Jesuit School of Theology/Graduate Theological Union
  4. B.A., University of Dayton


Research Interests

My research sits at the intersection of the sociology of culture, religion, organizations, and collective action.

My early career focus was the production of social concern for distant issues and cultural outsiders. I studied how religious organizations produce empathy, tolerance, political behavior and activism. This resulted in my recent book, Empathy Beyond U.S. Borders, about immersion travel by colleges and churches to the U.S.-Mexico border to understand undocumented immigration. I also have written about transnational gift-giving and short-term mission trips, as well as progressive religion and Catholic parishes.

Current Research Projects

I have two active research projects.

The first focuses on religious change, specifically how religious imaginations and beliefs in God are organized and diverge over time. This topic is broadly animated by the puzzle of how and why different religious imaginations exist, despite social change that affects all of them. I use GSS data and a unique dataset of symbolic objects to examine how God is conceptualized and what types of objects are used in doing so.

A second project, still in its early stages, is focused on “street-level” church-state interactions. Most research in this area is focused on major courts cases and big social institutions (healthcare, education). But, most negotiation of church-state interaction actually happens at the local level, among local religious leaders and government bureaucrats, who we know almost nothing about. I am working with colleagues across the country to understand how this “street-level” church-state management occurs at a moment in U.S. history when religious diversity is increasing and the US Supreme Court is encouraging more religious accommodation. 

So far, we have completed 100 interviews in six different counties. We will be interviewing and survey local government officials across the country.

 My research has been supported by ARNOVA, the Association for the Sociology of Religion, the Louisville Institute, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, and other funders.


Research Interests:

Culture, Social Movements, Religion, Civic Organizations, Catholic Parishes

Research Interests:

Social Institutions and Culture:

beliefs and values, religious organizations, collective behavior, moral action