Religion and Culture
So is it an impossibly complicated task to study religion and culture at the Following the Al Qaeda attacks on the US on 11 September “ the changing nature of the link between culture and religion”. of the American Constitution stresses both secularity and religious freedom. From July 1, Religion & American Culture will be published by Cambridge To assist with the transition, UC Press will continue to make existing content.
The prevailing view in some sociological circles is that the difference goes back to the separation of church and state.
Difference Between Culture and Religion: A Proposal Requesting Response (Discussion) - PhilPapers
The First Amendment to the U. Constitution—along with state laws and constitutions—produced a competitive religious marketplace in which scores of sects competed with one another while the stodgy Europeans stuck with their state churches, and everyone in America knows that the marketplace outperforms monopolies, especially state-supported monopolies. American competition meant that denominations multiplied, religious entrepreneurs flourished, immigrants imported traditions, uneducated clergy attracted uneducated followers, educated clergy attracted educated followers, and radio preachers and televangelists bought up the airwaves.
Though historians have shared no consensus about what it meant to adhere. True, American competition might be exaggerated. The region is about as homogeneous, once you leave the cities, as Italy, though the Pentecostals threaten some trust-busting.
Furthermore, a place like England, burdened or buoyed by an Anglican establishment, had about fifteen competing denominations by the mid-nineteenth century and even more after World War I. The competitors attracted about as many members as the Anglican establishment. Since we are looking at trends that began in the eighteenth century, we might want to recall that the American states formed themselves as a nation during the Enlightenment—a period in which it sometimes seemed, at least to the orthodox, as if deists were to become as prominent as revivalist Christians.
As a result, the clergy invested themselves in an extended polemic against deistic thought, arguing, among other things, that the deists provided an inadequate support for morality. If ever a theological argument took hold among a population, the association between religion and morality captured the American imagination.
To this day, only a handful of politicians could hope to be elected to office if they did not let the voters know that they are religious—a requirement richly productive of unending irony. In Western Europe, voters seem not to see any necessary relation between morality and religious belief. It comes, of course, from the Gospel of John, and most Americans mean by it an experience resulting in a deeply felt relationship to Jesus as their Savior.
But that was not exactly what sixteenth-century Catholics or even the Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin meant by the words. The current American usage of the term comes from revivalist traditions, a point that makes it abundantly clear that revivalism is one source of American religiosity. Revivalist traditions also appeared in Europe and Great Britain among puritans, pietists, Wesleyans, and evangelicals, and in Catholic missions, but Europe also had strong counterweights: American revivalists were well-attuned to the individualist dimensions of American culture.
The difference is a matter of degree, but degrees make a difference. Nor can one forget that America has been, since the first Native Americans wandered onto the continent, an immigrant nation.
Of course, Europe had its own immigrants, sometimes motivated, at least in part, by religious desires. But America has received more immigrants than any other country. Between and33 million Europeans alone came to the United States. Between andtwenty million more immigrants arrived.
Immigrants were not invariably religious, but the three institutions that immigrants brought with them were families, schools, and religious institutions. And the religious institutions became not only places of worship, but also of recreation, cultural preservation, social organization, and association, with people from the home country.
Understanding Why Americans Seem More Religious Than Other Western Powers
Whatever the reasons, the multiple functions kept people close to churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. Beforenearly 75 percent of the immigrants to America came in some condition of unfreedom: Europe also had slaves and serfs, but for most of the eighteenth century almost half of all immigrants to America were enslaved Africans, and slavery altered Christianity. For one thing, it helped to produce a conservative white religious culture in the South.
By the s, the Southern planter class associated unorthodox thought with the northern movement to abolish slavery.
Something of that amalgam of religion and white southern culture stuck. But the slaves themselves also helped make the South the most religious section of the United States.
More importantly, religion is not just a one-way cultural transmission from the candidates to the rest of us. Part of why religious language is so entrenched in American politics is that Americans demand it; the political expression of religious belief or expressions of political belief couched in religious language is an American norm. So, because religion provides a common tradition and frame of reference, it can also provide a common language for belonging.
It is a basis for solidarity in our otherwise divided society.
In an ostensibly secular society, religion nevertheless plays an important role in political life: We expect presidents to invoke God in the State of the Union and inaugural addresses, not only as an expression of personal piety but also as an invocation of a higher power behind public life. Further, we expect it as an invocation of a common cultural background against which our differences can be, at least theoretically, harmonized.
From this perspective, political religion is the public version of church rituals; it is the way we call our national community into being. What can bring us together in our increasingly polarized political climate and in our increasingly individualized civic life?
If anything, perhaps civil religion, with its rhethoric of common belonging and its notion of American society as built on a covenant can serve as a link between individual will and national destiny. But Christianity, in its broadest form, is expected and indeed enforced. Another 17 percent said that it was not a Christian country, but it should be.
Taken together, a majority of Americans held to this position across otherwise deep divides—rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat. In the eyes of most Americans, being an American means being a Christian. Religion as Symbolic Boundary Religion, then, can operate as a marker of belonging in specific communities and it can function as a platform for American belonging more generally.
At one level, these are inclusive functions. The answer is that religion is a symbolic boundary, and like all boundaries, it both includes some and excludes others.
Some of this inclusion and exclusion works at a deep cultural level. It is often said that one can be almost anything, except an atheist, and still be president. While that may be an exaggeration, it is clear that belief is an expected part of American belonging and, conversely, that nonbelievers do not belong.
Opinion polls have long shown that atheists are at or near the bottom of the list of categories of people for whom Americans would be willing to choose as president. As it turns out, exclusion is related to the symbolic sincerity explored above.
Congress, causing not just discomfort but outright hostility from some parts of the polity.
The Social Functions of Religion in American Political Culture - The Society Pages
Finer distinctions also become apparent. Photo by Vix Walker via flickr.
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But what about Mitt Romney? His Mormon faith has not, at least so far, been an overt issue in the campaign. However, it is not clear how much his relatively soft support is due to his personality, how much is due to his political positions, and how much to the fact that many are not sure about which side of the boundary Mormonism falls.
What Now for the Culture War? But if we seem to be entering a particularly bloody religious skirmish in the American political culture war, there are also some reasons this war may be self-limiting.
If we are not yet at a place where religious faith of any stripe is a marker of belonging, it seems that we are trending that way. The simple fact that the Judeo-Christian tradition has come to replace the Christian-only tradition so widely may mean that Americans will be unwilling to draw boundaries too strongly among believers for much longer. This is not the first time in American history that populist politics especially now in the Tea Party have tracked the rise of religious distinctions in politics.
At the turn of the 20th century, populism involved significant anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views.
The disconnect between religion and culture
Even when formally separate, religion and politics have a way of overlapping in the American imagination. For now at least, Romney is the front-runner in the Republican field.
What would a fight between Romney and Obama look like, and how would that reconfigure religious boundaries? Another somewhat safe prediction is that, while religion may be more or less obvious in the political debates to come, it will still function in the same ways as before. As a broad generalization, Democratic and Republican politicians do tend to draw on religion in different ways; Democrats tend to see religion an important but essentially private matter, while Republicans tend to see it as public.
But this is not exactly right, and certainly not when we are talking about the public at large. As the sociologist Christian Smith has pointed out, evangelical Christians are not a monolithic group.