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Prodigal Nation

Andrew R. Murphy

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780195321289
Published online January 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780199869855 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195321289.001.0001
Prodigal Nation

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This book traces the emergence and development of the American jeremiad, a form of political rhetoric that laments the nation's decline from a virtuous past and calls it to repentance and renewal. Employed by Americans of all political persuasions since the earliest days of settlement, the jeremiad has proven to be a powerful way of invoking the American past in order to chart a brighter American future. Part I of the book focuses on three especially important episodes in the jeremiad's history: early New England, Civil War America, and the rise of the Christian Right. Part II provides a critical analysis of the jeremiad's role in the American “culture wars” and politics more generally. In seeking to place the American past in the service of the American future, the book argues, the jeremiad takes not one form, but two: a traditionalist jeremiad whose view of the past depends heavily on claims about how things used to be, and emphasizes the importance of preserving concrete aspects of the past as we move toward an uncertain future; and a progressive jeremiad, which views the past as a repository of emancipatory principles articulated at the founding but never fully realized in practice. Acknowledging that both traditionalist and progressive jeremiads are deeply entwined with the nation's history, the book concludes with a call for a revived progressive jeremiad as most compatible with the deep diversity—cultural, religious, political, philosophical—that characterizes American society at the dawn of the twenty‐first century.

Keywords: Jeremiad; American jeremiad; New England; Civil War; Christian Right; traditionalist; progressive; culture wars; diversity

Book.  336 pages. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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Table of Contents

The American Jeremiad in Prodigal Nation

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Decline, Slavery, and War in Prodigal Nation

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Taking America Back in Prodigal Nation

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Competing Jeremiads in Prodigal Nation

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Constructing a Usable Past in Prodigal Nation

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The Jeremiad and the Culture Wars in Prodigal Nation

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