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Civil Religion

Civil religion represents a diverse tradition of scholarship, but generally refers to public dimensions of religion, and especially to connections between religion and ethno-nationalism.  Robert Bellah, who is credited with coining and popularizing the concept, defines it as “a public religious dimension that is expressed in a set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals” (1967: 100).  This is typically conceptualized with regard to the sanctification of political institutions such as the veneration of the U.S. constitution or flag. 

See Gorski, who posits that civil religion exists as a middle ground between fundamentalisms seeking to merge religion and the public sphere and secularists who seek a full separation between public life and religion.  Research on civil religion is typically conducted in a comparative historical fashion, due to its imprecise conceptual boundaries.

Citations:

Bellah, Robert N. 1967. “Civil Religion in America.” Daedalus 96:1-21.

Bellah, Robert N. 1975. The Broken Covenant. New York: The Seabury Press.

Gorski, Philip.  2010.  “Civil Religion Today.”  ARDA Guiding Papers Series.

Williams, Rhys H. and N. J. Demerath III. 1991. “Religion and Political Process in an American City.” American Sociological Review 56:417-31.

Wuthnow, Robert. 1988. The Restructuring of American Religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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