Special Issue "Civil Religion in America"
A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 April 2019).
Interests: U.S. Intellectual History, American Studies, American cultural history, American religious history, history of movie culture, transnational intellectual history, civil religion, American Catholic history, just war theory
Civil religion remains a contested, convenient, perhaps even confusing term among scholars of religion in the United States. This issue of Religions explores the breadth and depth of civil religion in America, a concept made famous by the late sociologist Robert Bellah, and an idea that has inspired scholars to go well beyond Bellah’s initial interest.
Civil religion in America has rich history as both an historical concept and as a scholarly term. This issue of Religions asks you to address how scholars identify the existence of civil religion in U.S. history; why civil religion as an idea has remained relevant to the study of religion in the United States; and whether the contested nature of civil religion—among, though not limited to, historians, sociologists, theologians, and anthropologists—has perhaps compromised the utility of the term itself.
Relatively recently, a number of substantial scholarly works have addressed civil religion in America from a variety of perspectives. For example, Philip Gorski’s American Covenant argues that civil religion in America is a way to calibrate American politics toward a republican sense of virtue and common-sense politics. Jonthan Ebel in G.I. Messiahs relates the sacrifice of soldiering to the production of civil religion. Other scholars have identified individuals, from presidents to preachers, as creators and leaders of an American civil religion. While Robert Bellah pointed to Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy as key figures in this tradition, a diverse array of scholars, including Robert Wuthnow, Gary Scott Smith, Arthur Remillard, and Rosemary Corbett, have demonstrated how different kinds of American civil religion emerge from the intersection between religion, politics, and a sense of belonging (whether to a nation or a region). Yet, there is hardly a consensus about whether civil religion has advanced the study of religion in the United States because of the conflicts within the term itself. For example, scholars such as David Sehat and Ira Chernus have argued that civil religion is a distraction from more accurate and incisive analyses of how politicized religion functions in the United States.
The aim of this issue of Religions is to capture the diverse ways scholars characterize and contest civil religion in America. For example, which debate about civil religion should we foreground? Should we focus on its legitimacy as a religion? Or its power as a tool for political and religious leaders? Is it problematic to historicize a term that seems so connected to the work on a single scholar—Robert Bellah? Have we clearly gone “beyond Bellah” and his influence over the term’s meaning and life cycle? Is civil religion a unifying or divisive force in American history? Or both? Is civil religion related to American legal and constitutional history more than religious history? How would our understanding of religion in the United States look without studies of civil religion? These are a few of the questions that contributors to the issue can address in their essays. Contributions from a variety of disciplines that focus on particular individuals or that cover large swaths of U.S. history are welcome. One model to consider for this volume is the still relevant collection of essay edited by Russell Richey and Donald Jones entitled American Civil Religion that brought together historians, theologians, sociologist, and political theorists to discuss the relevance of Robert Bellah’s 1967 essay “Civil Religion in America.” This issue of Religions does not require scholars to address Bellah’s essay but rather seeks to capture the state of affairs of research and thinking on civil religion in America.
Prof. Dr. Raymond J. Haberski, Jr.
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- Civil religion
- political theology
- Robert Bellah
- national belonging
- exclusion and chauvinism
- popular culture