Faithful Republic: Religion and Politics in Modern America

Faithful Republic: Religion and Politics in Modern America

Faithful Republic: Religion and Politics in Modern America

Faithful Republic: Religion and Politics in Modern America

Synopsis

Despite constitutional limitations, the points of contact between religion and politics have deeply affected all aspects of American political development since the founding of the United States. Within partisan politics, federal institutions, and movement activism, religion and politics have rarely ever been truly separate; rather, they are two forms of cultural expression that are continually coevolving and reconfiguring in the face of social change.

Faithful Republic explores the dynamics between religion and politics in the United States from the early twentieth century to the present. Rather than focusing on the traditional question of the separation between church and state, this volume touches on many aspects of American political history, addressing divorce, civil rights, liberalism and conservatism, domestic policy, and economics. Together, the essays blend church history and lived religion to fashion an innovative kind of political history, demonstrating the pervasiveness of religion throughout American political life.

Contributors : Lila Corwin Berman, Edward J. Blum, Darren Dochuk, Lily Geismer, Alison Collis Greene, Matthew S. Hedstrom, David Mislin, Andrew Preston, Bruce J. Schulman, Molly Worthen, Julian E. Zelizer.

Excerpt

Andrew Preston, Bruce J. Schulman, and Julian E. Zelizer

The mingling of religion and politics has formed a defining feature of American public life ever since the founding of the United States as a nation. This potent, sometimes explosive mixture has been remarkably pervasive, especially given the limitations the Constitution placed on the extent to which religious faith can participate as a function of government. The only guidance the Constitution offered on religion’s standing in politics came in Article VI, which prohibited the use of religious tests to determine if someone is eligible for national office. The Bill of Rights addressed religion more directly—the first sentence of the First Amendment guaranteed religious liberty through the establishment and free exercise clauses—but did so briefly, in only sixteen words. Legally, then, religion received no official role in national governance, and certainly no endorsement or encouragement.

Politically, however, religion has always been prominent in American public life. “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports,” declared George Washington in his farewell address of 1796. “The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.” Washington was a child of the Enlightenment and by no means an orthodox Protestant. Nonetheless, it seemed obvious to him that a healthy republic depended upon virtue, that virtue depended upon morality, and that morality depended on religion. According to Washington, in other words, democratic self-government could not exist without religion. “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure,” he concluded, “reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Not everyone shared Washington’s vision of a religious republic. Thomas . . .

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