Religion in American Political Thought
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0105
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0105
Since the settlement of the Plymouth Colony in 1620, American political thought has been deeply influenced by religious texts and ideas. As early as the 17th century, there were differences of opinion about the proper role of religion in the “New Israel”—questions that American institutions still find themselves grappling with today. Scholars from several disciplines, including political science, history, American studies, sociology, and theology, have examined a variety of ways in which religion—the Judeo-Christian tradition in particular—has influenced ideas about the meaning of America as well as the political rhetoric of American politics with particular emphasis on the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Although the First Amendment to the US Constitution expressly forbids the establishment of a national church, religion had a profound influence on America’s founders and continued to influence political events at key junctures in American history, including the Civil War, the Gilded Age, the Progressive era, the Cold War, and more recently during the “Culture Wars” (see Hunter 1991, cited under Culture Wars). After the first decade of the 21st century, new questions about civil religion and new political struggles have emerged, around such issues as same sex marriage, LGBT rights, and science education in public schools, ensuring that religion remains at the center of debates about America’s origins and future.
The works in this section provide overviews and introductions on the intersection of religion and American Political Thought. Religion is central in Tocqueville 2000, a monumental tome on American political culture. Noll and Harlow 2007 is a collection of essays by leading scholars from several disciplines, from the Puritan era to the present. Lambert 2008 offers a useful framing of the confluence of religion and politics over time in America. Butler 1990 challenges the hegemony of Puritan ideas on the American religious experience. Bloom 1992 argues for a “gnostic” understanding of American religions. Clebsch 1981 explains types of religious concepts that became secularized over time. Tuveson 1980 (originally published in 1968) distinguishes between different types of millennial thinking. McGreevy 2003 reconsiders the relationship between Catholicism and American democracy.
Bloom, Harold. The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation. New York: Simon Schuster, 1992.
Argues that despite the great diversity of sects in America, there is a common American religion based on shared values. The “American Religion,” masking itself as Protestant Christianity, is really Emersonian, a “religion of the self that is “irretrievably Gnostic” (p. 49). Pays particular attention to Mormons and Southern Baptists.
Butler, Jon. Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
Challenges tradition that places New England Puritanism at the center of the American religious experience. Despite the failure of Puritan religious models, authority, coercion, pluralism, folklorization of magic, and belief in supernatural interventionism, all caused America to be an extraordinarily spiritual society which far eclipsed the Puritan achievement.
Clebsch, William A. From Sacred to Profane America: The Role of Religion in American History. Chico, CA: American Academy of Religion, 1981.
Tries to capture the contribution of religion to the functioning totality of American culture; focuses on six themes: education, pluralism, social welfare and morality, novelty, nationalism, and participation. For each theme, the author traces the evolution of a religious impulse into a secular (“profane”) achievement.
Lambert, Frank. Religion in American Politics: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.
Excellent introduction to formative periods and issues in the confluence of religion and American politics. Covers eight periods: founding, Second Great Awakening, Gilded Age; rise of early fundamentalism; the New Deal, and Cold War, the civil rights era, rise of the Christian Right, and the reply of the Religious Left.
McGreevy, John. Catholicism and American Freedom: A History. New York: Norton, 2003.
Amends conventional view of relationship between Catholics and democratic principles as they evolved in America since 1776. Portraits recreate 19th century debates over education, slavery, and nationalism and 20th century disputes about social welfare policy, democracy, birth control, abortion, and sexual abuse of minors scandal in the priesthood.
Noll, Mark A., and Luke E. Harlow. Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present. 2d ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Five of seventeen essays examine the relationships between religious and political ideas. Luminaries Ruth Bloch, Harry Stout, and Nathan Hatch explore how various rhetorical and theological aspects of salvation, providence, and community informed political notions of revolution, liberty, and republican government in the 18th century.
Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America. Translated and Edited by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Tocqueville’s classic work documenting his observations about America contains several chapters on American religious beliefs and practices and their intimate connection with democratic culture. See especially Volume 2, Part 1, chapters 5–8 (pp. 417–428), and Part 2, chapters 9 (p. 504), and 15 (pp. 517–521).
Tuveson, Ernest Lee. Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America’s Millennial Role. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Originally published in 1968. Sample of thousands of British and American writings and sermons. Distinguishes between two types—premillennialists (millenarians), and postmillennialists—the vision of the Kingdom of Heaven to be achieved on earth before Christ’s Second Coming, as a new chosen people given a new “Israel,” with a special destiny.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Brazilian Political Development
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Development of Survey Research
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- East Africa, Politics of
- Economic Voting
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hume’s Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and International Relations
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Judiciaries and Politics in East Asia
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mass Incarceration and US Politics
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Plato's Political Thought
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Class Formation
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Private Governance
- Public Opinion in Advanced Industrial Democracies
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Racial and Ethnic Descriptive Representation in the United...
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau's Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Korea, Politics of
- Spectacle, The
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- Transitional Justice
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Presidency, The
- Voter Turnout
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- Worker Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics