UW-Platteville’s Rowley publishes Las Vegas research in Geographical Review

May 30, 2012

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. - Dr. RJ Rowley, assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, met a longtime goal this year when Geographical Review, one of the world's leading scholarly periodicals devoted exclusively to geography, published his Las Vegas-based research article, "Religion in Sin City."

"It was really exciting for me and really satisfying," said Rowley, who grew up in Las Vegas and has since focused many research projects there. "I hope it's just the beginning of reaching other professional goals."

Rowley's article, which looks at how religious believers in Las Vegas negotiate between their spiritual beliefs and their surrounding cultural environment, involved interviews with 27 religious leaders from across 11 major faiths in southern Nevada, as well as a total of three years of participant observation.

"I had no idea what I would find in the specifics until I went into the project," said Rowley. "That's part of the approach I took, to let the interviewees speak for themselves and identify the themes and patterns that came out of it, rather than my hypotheses or preconceived notions."

Over the course of the project, Rowley said he found that religion, and temples, mosques and churches, are just as much a part of the city as the 24-hour casinos, shows and lights. In fact, more than 40 percent of the residents of Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, regularly attend worship services.

Representing Judaism, Catholicism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Islam, several Protestant denominations and Unitarian Universalists, many of the religious leaders Rowley interviewed said that while the gambling industry in Las Vegas definitely presents unique challenges, ministering to people there was really no different than ministering to people anywhere.

Some interviewees said the cultural environment actually made it easier to show the difference between positive and negative behavior, but others said it also created difficult predicaments, such as advising parishioners to avoid gambling while knowing that much of area's jobs and entertainment are linked, either directly or indirectly, to the industry.

In a city transient by nature where people move to but don't seem to stay, religious leaders saw faith as important in providing a sense of community, Rowley said, but at the same time, the anonymity made possible in a city of millions helped people to open up about their difficulties and ask for guidance.

"Having grown up in a religious home in Las Vegas, I can relate to much of what the clerics and religious leaders in the city talked about as challenges and benefits of keeping faith in a place like Las Vegas," said Rowley. "It was interesting to see how the thoughts of people across the religious spectrum connected with one another and explained a really interesting story about how religion and place interact."

Next for Rowley is finishing a book that includes research from this project, as well as broader looks at casinos and their role in American culture. Rowley is also studying the impact of sea level rise on coastal communities and their sense of identity.

For more information, contact Rowley at (608) 342-1311 or rowleyr@uwplatt.edu.

Contact: Dr. RJ Rowley, assistant professor, UW-Platteville Geography Program, (608) 342-1311, rowleyr@uwplatt.edu Written by: Barbara Weinbrenner, communications specialist, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, weinbreb@uwplatt.edu

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