Meet 2020 Carnegie Fellow Amy Erica Smith, Iowa State University

The Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program recognizes an exceptional group of both established and emerging scholars, journalists, and authors with the goal of strengthening U.S. democracy, driving technological and cultural creativity, exploring global connections and global ruptures, and improving both natural and human environments. 

How will the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program impact your research and overall career?

This is a transformative fellowship that will give me the ability to collect lots of new data and support graduate students in both the US and Brazil. It also gives me the great fortune of a plenty of time to analyze the data, and most importantly to write. In all those ways, it will take my career to the next level.

Beyond my career, my concern is for the future of Brazil, as well as all of our future on a warming Earth. I hope that the project gives us new tools and frameworks for understanding people’s choices, and for how to encourage better collective action.

What research topics do you primarily focus on? How can people access your work?

My research focuses on public opinion, political behavior, and representation in the developing world, with a focus on Latin America, and especially Brazil. Much of my recent work examines religion and politics.

Under the Carnegie Fellowship, I hope to finish a series of articles and a book about how religion is shaping people’s interpretations of and responses to climate change in the developing world. People who are interested in reading more about my work can go to my website,

Do you have any advice for students in political science, including tips on how to find funding and support for research projects?

Gradually, over time, I’ve learned two big lessons about choosing research topics and seeking funding. First, choose questions that you believe are important–ones that you’re passionate about answering. You will be more creative, and you will have more stamina and drive when you encounter obstacles. Listen to your advisors, yes, but also listen to the secret whispering of your own curiosity. Second, clear writing is critical, and getting to clarity requires ridiculous amounts of rewriting, organizing, and practice. Early on the tenure track, I figured out that everything I wrote sounded better if I cut 30% of the words. One might think that wordy, erudite prose makes one sound sophisticated, but in the end, simple, clear, and pleasant prose wins grants.

Amy Erica Smith is Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Professor and an associate professor of political science at Iowa State University. She is particularly interested in how ordinary people in both democratic and authoritarian countries understand and engage in politics, and how citizens and politicians interact. Dr. Smith’s Carnegie project will explore how faith shapes individual responses to climate change. Using Brazil and Kenya as case studies, Dr. Smith will show that contrary to popular belief, Christian and Muslim theology often promote environmental protection. She will explore how religious leaders and communities that adopt “environmentalist theologies” compatible with both science and faith have enormous potential to mobilize support for policies to address climate change.