My interest in American civil religion (ACR) relates to religious formation and leadership and ecclesiology (theology of the church). My thesis is that American civil religion continues to evolve as a complex systematic theology (in my view counter to a theology of the cross and resurrection), with its own creeds and mission statements, and with an exclusive ecclesiology for a nation professing to be an inclusive, democratic, just, peace-seeking nation. What is American civil religion? How did it come to be? How is it changing? Is there competition over the creeds of civil religion?
Civil religions, alongside beliefs of specific faith communities, shape attitudes and actions of individuals and of entire peoples. American civil religion, with its presumption of entitlement to global dominance, presents a particular problem. Civil religion is a social phenomenon, a sacred citizenship. The term appears in Jean Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract. Alexis de Tocqueville empirically observed a form of civil religion that emerged precisely in the situation of church-state separation.
Robert Bellah's article in 1967, "Civil Religion in America," Daedalus 96 (Winter, 1967), gave words to what others had long felt:
While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of "the American Way of Life," few have realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-instituted civil religion in America...this religion—or perhaps better, this religious dimension—has its own seriousness and integrity and requires the same care in understanding that any other religion does.
In his 1975 The Broken Covenant, Bellah outlined more fully the historical evidence of American civil religion, clearly describing both the “chosen” character of America’s story of origin and two great flaws: the fact that the American dream from the beginning did not include the dreams of all, particularly African slaves and indigenous peoples.
For my extensive article on American Civil Religion, written one year ago, click on title of this post.