Gary John Adler, Jr.

Gary John Adler, Jr.
Director, Undergraduate Program in Sociology
Associate Professor of Sociology
Faculty Affiliate, PSU Rock Ethics Institute
Faculty Affiliate, PSU Social Thought Program
Member, PSU Society for the Study of Religion

Curriculum Vitae


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

Professional Bio

I study how forms of culture (beliefs, identity, styles, schemas) shape individuals and organizations. More specifically, I focus on how culture works in different ways at the intersection of civil society, religion, and government in local American communities.

I’m currently the lead principal investigator on a project funded by the National Science Foundation. Along with colleagues at three other universities, we are surveying local government officials through the 2023 American Local Leaders Survey. This project examines the experiences of local government officials, especially how they think about their roles, respond to social diversity, and navigate community challenges. The project is based on initial insights from a 2020 survey of local government officials in Pennsylvania and a four-year interview study of 200 religious’ leaders across seven different American communities.

My research has been supported by Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), the Association for the Sociology of Religion, the Religious Research Association, the Louisville Institute, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, the Penn State Rock Ethics Institute, and the Penn State Social Sciences Research Institute.

I have received awards from the U.S. State Department (Fulbright Scholar to Croatia, 2023-2024), the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (Distinguished Article Award, 2022), the American Sociological Association (Book Award Honorable Mention, 2020) and ARNOVA (President’s Research Award, 2019).

Early Career Projects

My dissertation focused on how religious organizations produce empathy, tolerance, political behavior and activism. The culmination of that work was my book, Empathy Beyond U.S. Borders (Cambridge University Press), about immersion travel as a form of transnational civic engagement by colleges and churches. I examined why organizations sent people abroad, how cross-cultural interactions were produced, and the cultural and emotional mechanisms of travel that changed individuals. This book won Honorable Mention from the Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity Section of the American Sociological Association (2020).

I have also published on congregations, survey methodology, and Catholic parishes, including the edited volume, American Parishes: Remaking Local Catholicism (Fordham University Press).

Research Interests by Concentration

Social Institutions and Culture

beliefs and values, religious organizations, collective behavior, moral action
Gary John Adler
(814) 863-5365
515 Oswald Tower University Park , PA 16802
Mailroom: 203 Oswald Tower