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ARDA Guiding Papers Series

Civil Religion Today

by Philip S. Gorski


Does America have a civil religion? Does it need a civil religion? Is civil religion compatible with a secular society? With religious belief? Building on Robert Bellah's well-known discussions of American civil religion, and on the Anglophone tradition of civil religion more broadly, this essay answers in the affirmative. It shows that the United States has a long and evolving civic tradition composed of Christian and republican strands and contrasts it with two other competing traditions: religious nationalism and liberal secularism. It engages with historical, philosophical, theological and social-scientific scholarship to develop a descriptive and prescriptive account of the proper relationship of religion and politics in the U.S. It further argues that the political rhetoric of Barack Obama may be understood as an attempt to reconstruct and revive the civil religion tradition.

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Please use the following when citing this paper:

Gorski, Philip S. 2010. Civil Religion Today (ARDA Guiding Paper Series). State College, PA: The Association of Religion Data Archives at The Pennsylvania State University, from http://www.thearda.com/rrh/papers/guidingpapers.asp.

Philip S. Gorski is Professor of Sociology at Yale University. A comparative-historical sociologist with strong interests in theory and methods and in modern and early modern Europe, Gorski also serves as Co-Director of Yale’s Center for Comparative Research (CCR).