Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Political Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



I examine whether and why centralized religious organizations are responsive to their members’ concerns, even though leaders have few incentives to be responsive in the absence of formal accountability mechanisms. Specifically, I explore the incentives that underlie responsiveness in a hierarchical and formally unaccountable organization: the Catholic Church. Though the Church is typically viewed as an opinion leader, I argue that the Church has the same motive as any interest group to be responsive to its members because it relies on its members for key resources. First, I compile and analyze a unique data set of papal documents to demonstrate that the pope is publicly responsive to issues that Catholics’ deem politically important. Second, I employ original survey experiments of Catholics in Brazil and Mexico (N=5,006) to test how members react to papal responsiveness. The results suggest that committed members that attend services more frequently trust and participate more in the Church when the pope is responsive. The findings qualify the widely held assumption that formally unaccountable leaders primarily influence their members’ political preferences by outlining when and how unelected leaders should act in accordance with their own followers’ political preferences to extract support. Building on the insight that the Church uses rhetorical responsiveness to maintain its members’ organizational trust and participation, I examine in the second half of the dissertation how and when the Church expands its physical assets in the form of bureaucratic jurisdictions. Given that the Church must coordinate the demands of existing members, as well as compete against rival religious groups for supporters and political influence, does the Church target their resources to support political allies or challenge opponents? I explore the political motivations for expansion by analyzing 3,400 changes within the Catholic Church’s diocese hierarchy from 1900 to 2008. The central finding is that the Church is more likely to invest resources in a country when the government is a political ally. The results help illustrate the constraints and priorities that centralized religious organizations, in addition to interest groups and NGOs, face in expanding their international reach.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Michael Bechtel

Committee Members

Matthew Gabel, Guillermo Rosas, Margit Tavits, Anthony Gill,


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/55wx-7642

Available for download on Tuesday, August 15, 2119