Civil Religion and the Cultural Politics of National Identity in Obama's America
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Wiley ; Society for the Scientific Study of Religion
American civil religion (ACR) burst on to the scholarly scene in 1967, and has been periodically revived as a source of analytic insight and normative hope since that time. It posited a universalist, prophetic, nonsectarian faith, referenced on the nation, that served as both a source of unity for the American people and a discursive resource for political leaders and protest movements. Using recent political events as illustrative cases, I argue that ACR is not only a universalist, prophetic creed, it is also an expression of tribal identity that ascribes a particular character and purpose to the American people. In particular, this "tribal" civil religion has an often-unstated assumption about the inseparability of religion, race, and national identity—that is, white, Christian, and American. Recent events have disrupted those implicit connections, leading to a vociferous reemphasis of their centrality to the national story. I maintain that neither ACR, nor recent politics involving immigration and Barack Obama's presidency, can be understood fully without considering the religion-race-national identity nexus.