Contrary to popular assumption

Contrary to popular assumption, it’s not just because the United States is one of the most religious countries on earth, although this certainly plays a part. Several researchers have highlighted that the United States possesses its own particular type of “civil religion”, that is, a religion of the state, separate and distinct from traditional religions such as Judaism and Christianity, but nonetheless relying heavily on these for images, narratives, rituals and rhetoric. As part of this civil religion, the US President assumes the role of both prophet and priest (and, occasionally, martyr) of the nation. R. Bellah 2005 argues that the US civil religion contains the following elements:
– “Religious” rituals and memorials, such as national days of remembrance, prayer services, presidential inaugurations and (I would add), State of the Union addresses.
– A body of “sacred” national documents, such as the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Pledge of Allegiance.
– The casting of significant figures in US history (particularly, but not solely, presidents) as prophets and martyrs for the nation. Abraham Lincoln, for example, has been portrayed as paying the ultimate price for the unity of the American nation, similar to Christ paying the ultimate price for unity between God and humanity Cherry 1971, 6-7. Other martyrs for the nation have included John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
The United States does not have a monopoly on these “religious” dimensions of nationalism, as A. Smith 2000 has noted. Yet for some reason these dimensions seem most obvious in the US context.


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