Civil religion in America

Our first worksheet: Civil religion in America (35 points)

After reviewing the materials on civil religion (PPT slides and the Professor Gorski interview, along with reading C. Lippy, pp. 50-52, and any additional research), answer the following questions:

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  1. 1. Define civil religion in its various aspects. Within your definition consider if this is in fact “religion” or only the appearance of religion invoked for an emotional response.
  1. 2. How does civil religion function as a means of justifying and promoting American ideals? How might this be helpful, and how might this be harmful?
  1. 3. Lippy noted that political leaders often used “religious language and images to talk about the meaning of America and the corporate identity of the new republic…” Even political leaders who were tepid, indifferent, or ambiguous about religion “spoke in almost sacred terms” about the founding and forming of the new republic.
    1. a. What do you think of this incorporation of religious rhetoric? For instance, might it be manipulative? If so, how? If not, what might be the underlying intention?
    2. b. Might it be legitimate to consider building a stable republic for the good of its citizens a “sacred duty”? Why or why not?
  1. 4. Professor Gorski spoke at length about how civil religion relates to the proper relationship / understanding between religion and politics as two separate spheres or systems in society. He concludes that there is “relative autonomy with areas of overlap.”
  1. a. What do you think should be the “proper relationship” between religion and politics?
  2. b. Can you think of a few examples where “areas of overlap” occur?
  1. 5. Gorski refers to an extreme form of government advocated by a fringe movement of Christian reconstructionists. Briefly, what is meant by a theonomy?
  1. 6. In his discussion on the relationship between the civic and religious spheres, Gorski pointed to Rousseau and Plato, among others. Briefly, what was Rousseau’s “Social Contract”? What was Plato’s view about the relationship between “the state” and the “cult” (a neutral, older term used for a religious system)?
  1. 7. Gorski gives a compelling example of civil religious language employed by President Obama in a speech on race delivered in Philadelphia (year?). Listen to that segment carefully, and provide specific examples of phrases and symbols Mr. Obama utilized.
  2. 8. According to Lippy, how was the designation “Providence” understood? Second, how might “Providence” be construed or illustrated in the symbol(s) located on the reverse of the US Great Seal, which appears on the $1 bill? (See both Lippy page 51, and the PDF slides.)

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