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Civil Religion in Political Thought

Ronald Weed

Publication Year: 2012

The essays in this volume blend historical and philosophical reflection with concern for contemporary political problems. They show that the causes and motivations of civil religion are a permanent fixture of the human condition, though some of its manifestations and proximate causes have shifted in an age of multiculturalism, religious toleration, and secularization

Published by: The Catholic University of America Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

This collection of essays is both welcome and extremely timely. The term “civil religion” has become such an object of reflexive contempt among those who employ it, who generally see in it only a form of dangerous idolatry, that the term’s analytical...

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pp. xi

This volume is the product of sustained collaboration among scholars in political science, philosophy, history, and religious studies. The early work on some of these essays originated from a summer workshop in 1996 on the theme of political...

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pp. 1-16

Civil religion has been a political and theological problem of enduring concern across the centuries because of both the potency of its promises and the intractability of its hazards. Indeed, recent appeals to religion by former U.S. president George W. Bush and controversies over the Pledge of Allegiance demonstrate...

Part One. The Legacy of Civil Religion in the History of Political Philosophy

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1. Gods for the City and Beyond: Civil Religion in Plato’s Laws

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pp. 19-46

Plato’s teaching on civil religion in the Laws reflects the complexity of that dialogue’s more general themes and, indeed, those of Plato’s political philosophy as a whole. The foremost of those themes is the possibility of a politics consistent with the highest human potential. This theme is most present in those dialogues...

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2. Truth versus Utility: The Debate on Civil Religion in the Roman Empire of the Third and Fourth Centuries

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pp. 47-65

One of John Stuart Mill’s late essays is entitled “The Utility of Religion” and starts as follows: “It has sometimes been remarked how much has been written, both by friends and enemies, concerning the truth of religion, and how little, at least...

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3. The Humility of True Religion: Augustine’s Critique of Roman Civil Religion

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pp. 66-92

In A.D. 410 the Eternal City was given a shocking reminder of its mortality. The Visigoth invasion of Rome prompted immediate accusations against Christians that the ascendancy of their faith in Rome had invited the catastrophic events of the early fifth century. Christianity enervated Rome’s political strength and...

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4. Forgiving Those Not Trespassing against Us: Hobbes and the Establishment of the Nonsectarian State Church

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pp. 93-120

Hobbes writes as if he expects disagreement to turn into violence swiftly and surely (v:3).1 “Rage,” he says, follows from “vehement opinion of the truth of anything, contradicted by others” (viii:19). Great disagreements are often manifestations of competing

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5. Civil Religion as Political Technology in Bacon’s New Atlantis

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pp. 121-144

In the New Atlantis, Francis Bacon presents a fictional island civilization, Bensalem, kept secret from the rest of the world. His purpose in this is to illustrate the unrestricted development of his new science. What is striking in the tale, however, is...

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6. Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Civil Religion: Freedom of the Individual, Toleration, and the Price of Mass Authenticity

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pp. 145-166

It is no accident that Rousseau treated the problem of civil religion as such a central one in his political writings.1 His apparently strong commitment to freedom of the individual required a level of extreme unity within the state that made...

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7. Alexis de Tocqueville on “Civil Religion” and the Catholic Faith

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pp. 167-204

In 2004, Marcello Pera, philosophy professor at the University of Pisa and president of the Italian Senate, addressed a letter to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. In the course of the letter, Pera, generally thought to be a secularist...

Part Two. The Enduring Relevance of Civil Religion in North America

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8. Rational Theology: Thomas Jefferson and the Foundation of America’s Civil Religion

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pp. 207-235

Americans commonly believe that the United States was founded on the idea of religious liberty. Did not the early European settlers come to America in order to worship God as they saw fit? Do not the very first clauses of the First Amendment protect religious freedom? To the American mind (and perhaps the modern...

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9. Unsettling Faith: The Radicalization of the First Amendment and Its Consequences

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pp. 236-261

Struck by America’s thriving religious life, Alexis de Tocqueville noted the explanation for it offered by clergymen. “[A]ll thought that the main reason for the quiet sway of religion over their country was the complete separation of church and state. I have no hesitation in stating that throughout my stay in America I...

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10. The Personal (Is Not?) the Political: The Role of Religion in the Presidency of George W. Bush

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pp. 262-279

It is impossible to discuss the presidency of George W. Bush without taking into account the role that his religion plays in it. Pollsters have consistently found a “God gap” in the electorate, with frequent church-goers (who tend to be traditionalist...

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11. Sacred Words, Fighting Words: The Bible and National Meaning in Canada, 1860–1900

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pp. 280-297

In 1839 Thomas Fowell Buxton argued that Britain needed to “atone” for the historic role it had played in the expansion of slavery. Around the same time John Williams, a British missionary in the South Pacific, said that Britons should plant...

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12. Civil Religion and Associational Life under Canada’s “Ephemeral Monster” : Canada’s Multi-Headed Constitution

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pp. 298-328

Canadian evocations of civil religion receive less attention than those of their southern neighbor because they appear to us more as phenomena associated with an earlier historical epoch in the nation’s history or as symbols of specific regions, rather...


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pp. 329-346


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pp. 347-348


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pp. 349-357

E-ISBN-13: 9780813218144
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813217246

Page Count: 357
Publication Year: 2012