In the midst of a raging discussion about what it means to be American, it is worthwhile to reflect on the profound ambivalence of American civil religion — perhaps the most powerful force for creating a shared national identity. In , Robert N.
These values, immortalized in Scripture-like speeches and founding documents, establish the basis for the construction of communities and evaluation of actions. In other words, their civil religious beliefs inspire self-sacrificial behaviors. Building on the work of Jonathan Haidt and others, this new framework reveals how civil religion is formed through a constant exchange among beliefs, behaviors, and experiences of belonging. This model for understanding American civil religion explains why civil religion is such a profoundly ambivalent force.
Civil religion can inspire both exclusive ethno-nationalism and inclusive idealism and hospitality. The construction of an American civil religion may be credited with binding together a radically diverse nation, but the sanctification of our cherished beliefs, practices, and communities may also be used to scapegoat the nonconformist and expel the other as is being done now. At its most inclusive, American civil religion includes capacious beliefs in core American values life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, justice for all ; behaviors associated with national rites and rituals Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving ; as well as more quotidian practices protests, public free speech, petitions for the redress of grievances, free religious expression ; and experiences of belonging citizenship by right of birth or naturalization.
But there is a dark side to this inclusive civil religion: It can blur the boundaries between sacred and profane, weakening religion and casting the state as beyond reproach. At its most exclusive, American civil religion proposes beliefs that demand absolute allegiance to our government, behaviors that require a willingness to take up arms to maintain the social order, and notions of belonging grounded in specific religious and racial identities. Exclusive civil religion does not necessarily begin with a coherent, consistent set of beliefs, but rather with a general experience of belonging to groups that are, or are perceived to be, disenfranchised by globalization.
Subscribe now to get future print issues in your mailbox donation requested but not required. They have employed civil religion to unite Americans and to frame and win support for specific policies.
Regularly invoking God in inaugural addresses and on other solemn occasions, the president has functioned as the nation's principal preacher and chief pastor. Presidents have operated more as priests than as prophets. George Washington was a sort of high priest, and the documents of the Founding Fathers have been treated as almost sacred texts. With the Civil War, says Bellah, came a new theme of death, sacrifice and rebirth, as expressed through Memorial Day rituals. Unlike France, the American civil religion was never anticlerical or militantly secular.
This assertive civil religion of the United States is an occasional cause of political friction between the US and Europe, where the literally religious form of civil religion has largely faded away in recent decades. In the United States, civil religion is often invoked under the name of " Judeo-Christian ethics ", a phrase originally intended to be maximally inclusive of the several religions practiced in the United States, assuming that these faiths all share the same values. Alvin J.
Schmidt argues that since the s, expressions of civil religion in the United States have shifted from a deistic to a polytheistic stance. Some scholars have argued that the American flag can be seen as a main totem of a national cult,  while others have argued that modern punishment is a form of civil religion. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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Content Pages of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Social Science
Main article: American civil religion. Further information: Commemoration of the American Revolution. Religion portal Society portal.
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Reuters War College. Retrieved 2 November The South needs to retire the conventional civic religion here, which is anti-Japanese pan-Korean nationalism in favor of a collective identification of civic principles. Paris: Bordas. Oxford Research. Retrieved 16 October The Washington Quarterly. Archived from the original PDF on 25 February Retrieved 25 February Albanese, Catherine L.
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Beiner, Ronald The Review of Politics. Bellah, Robert N. Archived from the original on 6 March Retrieved 25 October Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gentile, Emilio . Politics as Religion.
Translated by Staunton, George. Juergensmeyer, Mark Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
In This Article
Lindaman, Dana; Ward, Kyle Roy The New Press. Marty, Martin E. Religion and Republic: The American Circumstance.
Meyer-Dinkgrafe, Daniel London: Cambridge Scholars Press. O'Donovan, Oliver Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Plamper, Jan Schmidt, Alvin J.