Gary John Adler, Jr.
Mailroom: 203 Oswald Tower
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).