The Role of Civil Religion in American Society

Richard V. Pierard

in The Oxford Handbook of Church and State in the United States

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780195326246
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 The Role of Civil Religion in American Society

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This article discusses the significance of civil religion in American society. Religion is a distinctive feature in the political life of the United States. While the majority of Americans feel that it should be accorded greater influence in the nation's life, the U.S. Congress, however, mandates a clear boundary between organized religious bodies and civil society. This demarcation is stressed in Article VI and the “establishment” and “free exercise” sections of the First Amendment, wherein it is highlighted that no religion may be given preferential treatment and that every U.S. citizen has the right to practice their beliefs without interference from the state. Nevertheless, religiosity seems to be all-pervasive in American civic institutions, a situation that has attracted scholars of the twentieth century and which has give rise to the coinage of the term “civil religion.” The focus of this article is on civil religion—its definition, its historical background, and its meaning within the American context. It also discusses the recent issues surrounding civil religion.

Keywords: civil religion; American society; political life; civil society; civic institutions; historical background; American context; recent issues

Article.  8375 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics ; Comparative Politics

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