Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

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

Gary John Adler
(814) 863-5365
515 Oswald Tower University Park , PA 16802
Mailroom: 430 Burrowes Building


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

Current Projects

I have two active research streams.

The first considers how culture matters in a variety forms (values, beliefs, cultural models, institutions, aesthetics) in a variety of empirical topics, from medicine to political behavior, to racial identity, to religion.

A second stream is focused on religion-state ("church-state") interaction. Research on religion-state interaction in the United States is dominated by attention to court cases and culture war conflict. But, most church-state interaction actually happens at the local level, among local religious leaders and local government officials ("street-level bureaucrats"). The management and regulation of religion involves numerous meanings and forms of interaction, driven more by relationships, context, and personal identities than law. 

One project focuses on religious leaders. With colleagues across the country, we have interviewed religious leaders of 200 organizations 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 local religious accommodation. 

Another project focuses on local government officials. We launched the 2020 Survey of Pennsylvania’s Municipal Officials. Initial publications show that local officials are not differently religious than the general population, that there is wide variety in church-state attitudes, and that officials' religious identity influenced their response to COVID-19.

A third project considers how "religious liberty" was re-constructed since the 1980s, how the concept is poorly theorized among sociologists, and how sociologists should begin theorizing "religious equality."

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, the Penn State Rock Ethics Institute, the Penn State Social Sciences Research Institute and other funders.

Early Career Projects

My original research stream focused on how religious organizations produce empathy, tolerance, political behavior and activism. The culmination of that work is my recent book, Empathy Beyond U.S. Borders (Cambridge University Press), about immersion travel as a form of transnational civic engagement by colleges and churches. I examine why organizations send people abroad, how cross-cultural interactions are produced, and the cultural and emotional mechanisms of travel that change 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