UHV professor receives national award for research
A University of Houston-Victoria faculty member recently received a national award for his research about evangelical Christians’ participation in the 2016 presidential election.
Mark Ward Sr., a UHV associate professor of communication, recently received the 2018 David R. Maines Narrative Research Award for his essay, “The Dangers of Getting What You Wished For: What Do You Say to Evangelicals?”
“My research goes deeper than specific political issues,” Ward said. “I looked at evangelicals’ views over the decades about the perceived moral drift of the country and how Trump’s candidacy fit those narratives.”
The award is presented annually by the Carl Couch Center for Social and Internet Research and honors works that study the ways communities develop through the stories people share.
“This recognition is well deserved,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “Ward’s theoretical work about the way communities develop through narratives describes a social event that paves the way for new directions, and we applaud him for his work.”
Ward began his research essay by analyzing a sermon that was preached on the eve of the 2016 election that asked Christians to approach politics biblically and be salt and light in the battle between worldviews. Then Ward traced how the narratives behind these words filtered down to the local level from messages delivered through radio, television, print and social media by evangelical celebrities.
“Like any community, the evangelical subculture in America has three levels,” Ward said. “At the highest level are institutions such as radio and TV ministries, at the middle are churches, and at the lowest level are the ‘pews’ where churchgoers repeat the community’s stories as a reference point for their individual actions – and in 2016, one action was voting for Trump.”
Understanding how narratives drive the evangelical movement in America matters, said Ward.
“One in every four adults identifies as an evangelical Christian,” said Ward. “When they vote as a block, as they did for Trump, they have enormous impact on our politics.”
In his essay, Ward states that ending the culture wars and fostering civic dialogue will require both sides, religious and secular, to understand each other’s stories.
“Considering there was a debate among evangelicals before the election about whether to support Trump despite reported character issues about him, it could be possible to negotiate a story that approaching politics biblically that might give more weight to those reported character issues,” Ward said.
Ward’s research was published in the volume, “Constructing Narratives in Response to Trump’s Election: How Various Populations Make Sense of an Unexpected Victory,” released earlier this year.
The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.