Dr. Ryan Claassen (’94) on the Constitution

Dr. Ryan L. Claassen (‘94) returned to his alma mater for the presentation, “The Constitution, the Religious Right and the Presidential Election” at the Goshen College’s Center for Intercultural and International Education (CIIE). Claassen graduated from Goshen College with a history degree and worked as an admissions counselor for four years following is graduation. Currently, he is a director of PhD and MA programs and professor of Political Science at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Claassen specializes in American politics and political behavior, public opinion, and quantitative research courses at the doctoral and u ndergraduate level.

Claassen is the author of “Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans? Party Activists, Party Capture and the ‘God Gap’” (Cambridge University Press), while co-editing and writing upcoming publications “The Evangelical Crackup” (Temple University Press) with Paul Djupe of Denison University and “Ignorance Abroad” (Yale University Press) with Steve Hook. Dr. Ryan Claassen has contributed many works in political science research journals including American Politics Research, The Journal of Politics, The Journal of Political Science Education, Political Behavior, Political Research Quarterly, and Public Opinion Quarterly.

With the room filled with students and professors, Claassen opened up with a brief yet thorough analysis of the United States’ Constitution following up with questions related to the topic. He began by describing the beginnings and the ratification of the Constitution throughout the 18th to the 19th century. The audience had a chance to participate when Claassen asked questions about the US Constitution in regards to the current two party system and its relevance to the current presidential election. “What is it about the constitution that prevents more parties? Which parts of the Constitution are most relevant for the presidential election?“ Claassen asked. These simple questions acknowledged the need to understand the details and the power of the Constitution, but also how it affects the current US polity today, as Claassen noted the importance and the limitations of the electoral college.

Claassen also presented at the 2016 Yoder Public Affairs lecture at Goshen College, titled “Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans? Party Activists, Party Capture and the ‘God Gap’” on Tuesday, Sept. 13 in Goshen College’s Music Center’s Rieth Recital Hall. His book “Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans” (Cambridge University Press), assesses the way campaign activists represent religious and non-religious groups in American political parties dating back to the 1960s. By providing a new theoretical framework for investigating the connections between macro social and political trends, the results challenge a conventional wisdom in which recently mobilized religious and Secular extremists captured the parties and created a God gap.

Even as a history major at Goshen College, Claassen’s main interest was and is political science. “It was especially interesting being someone with an interest in politics in a history department where political science was taught but where you couldn’t major in it,” Claassen said. His senior thesis paper investigated the Peace Tax Fund Act, interviewing people involved with the initial legislation. Claassen credits his academic adviser and history professor John D. Roth, at the time, for challenging his perspective but also for affirming his own position: “To work with a historian John D. Roth, who is known within the Mennonite church for non participation in politics, we had interesting discussions on participating in politics and our different views. Those different positions really helped me understand my own position better if I were in a place where I wasn’t challenged in those way. It was a really enriching time.”

In terms of coming back to Goshen, Claassen said, “It’s a real pleasure to be back on campus. I’m honored to see a lot interest in my work.”