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How Naked Is the Public Square? Religion, Public Service, and Implications for Public Administration


David J. Houston is an associate professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His research interests include public service motivation and traffic safety policy. His recent research has been published in Public Administration Review, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, and Political Research Quarterly.

Patricia K. Freeman is a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, and Legislative Studies Quarterly.

David L. Feldman is a professor and chair of the Department of Planning, Policy and Design at the University of California, Irvine. His research focuses on water resources management, global climate change, and natural resources disputes. His most recent book, Water Policy for Sustainable Development, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2007. He is the author of four other books and more than 60 articles appearing in political science, public policy, and public administration journals.


The study of public administration has a decidedly secular character, a result of an intentional effort to seek legitimacy through professionalization that can be traced back to the Progressive Era. But is this secular orientation wholly descriptive of the practice of public administration? To address this question, the authors examine the religiosity of public servants (governmental and nongovernmental) and non–public servants, as well as the secular attitudes held by members of each group. The study finds that individuals in governmental public service occupations generally are more religious and possess less secular attitudes than those in non–public service occupations.