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Lec. 4:  Rites & Representations - Religion & Social Order
April 5, 1999



American civil religion is not to be confused with “the American Way of Life” or with “the Judeo-Christian tradition” as the national faith.

A form of cultural and social meaning which exists alongside of but is clearly dis-tinct from conventional, organized religion.

A morally multi-vocal, dialectical conversation or overlapping consensus—and often heated argument—about the meaning of America.

Civil religion defined:
What we have, then, from the earliest years of the republic is a collection of beliefs, symbols, and rituals with respect to sacred things and institutionalized in a collectivity (175).
Cf. Durkheim’s definition of Religion:
a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which united into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.

Religion as inseparable from  &  necessary for social life.
Durkheim: social integration, unity and moral order
cannot be achieved except by reunions, assemblies and meetings where in-dividuals, closely united to one another, reaffirm in common their common sentiments. Hence come civic ceremonies which do not differ from relig-ious ceremonies either in their object, results they produce or the processes employed to obtain their results (page ?)

Presidential inaugural addresses, national symbols, civic ceremonies & ideas as sacred legitimations & representations of the social order.

Bellah marks off civil religion in the following way: not church religion or politi-cal ideology; Declaration of Independence and Constitution as sacred texts; litur-gical calendar, high holidays.

Religious dimension of political realm.

Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Four General Tenets & Idea of “God” in Civil Religion.
1) there is a God;
2) there is a life to come:
3) virtue will be rewarded and vice punished; &,
4) exclusion of religious intolerance

The God of Civil Religion

Lincoln as civil religion’s greatest theologian

Bellah’s civil religion thesis
civil religion at its best [and only at its best] is a genuine apprehension of universal and transcendent religious reality as seen in or, one could almost say, as revealed through the experience of the American people [179].

Frederick Douglass