Civil Religion in America
In his seminal 1967 essay, sociologist Robert Bellah argued that the United States had "an elaborate and well-instituted civil religion," which existed "alongside of" and was "rather clearly differentiated from the churches." Also known as civic piety, religious nationalism, public religion, and the common faith, civil religion provides a religious sanction for the political order and a divine justification of and support for civic society and a nation's practices. It is the "state's use of consensus religious sentiments, concepts, and symbols for its own purposes." "As a system of established rituals, symbols, values, norms, and allegiances," civil religion functions as a social glue to bind people together and "give them an overarching sense of spiritual unity."
Civil religion involves beliefs (but no formal creed), events that seem to reveal God's purposes (most notably the American Revolution and the Civil War), prophets (especially Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln), sacred places (shrines to Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt; Bunker Hill; and Gettysburg), sacred texts (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address), ceremonies (Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day celebrations, and the pageantry of presidential inaugurals), hymns ("God Bless America" and "My Country, 'Tis of Thee"), and rituals (prayers at public events such as inaugurals and the beginnings of sessions of Congress and national days of prayer).
By presiding over the nation's rituals and reaffirming its creeds, presidents have served as the prophets and priests of this civil religion. They have employed civil religion to unite Americans and to frame and win support for specific policies. Regularly ...