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Significance of civil religion as an ideology of integration in the United States of America

Table of Contents:

1 Introduction

2. Approach to the term "Civil Religion"
2.1 Coinage by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
2.2 Coined by Alexis de Toqueville
2.3 Modern understanding of "civil religion" shaped by Robert N. Bellah

3. "Civil Religion" in the everyday culture of the USA
3.1 Social and religious pluralism as a basis
3.2 Expression and manifestations of the "civil religion"
3.2.1 "Civil Religion" in political rhetoric
3.3 “Civil Religion” as a consensus of values ​​and ideology of integration in a pluralistic society?

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1 Introduction

The USA stands out because of the strong multicultural mix of its society. As a classic immigration country, a social and religious pluralism has developed in the USA since the landing of the Mayflower in 1620, which is unparalleled in the world. The most diverse ethnic groups with well over 200 different religious beliefs of the most varied kinds seem to have come together to form a nation and a state. Given this strong segmentation, the question naturally arises as to what holds this nation together. Why do Americans feel like Americans and what connects them with their fellow citizens of different origins and beliefs? As an ideology of integration for the nation, due to the pluralism, no specific attestation of faith can be used; the term “civil religion” emerged. "Civil Religion" as a kind of secular religion, as an American ideology based on certain beliefs, rituals and symbols. Civil religion has made American culture and politics permeated with religious rhetoric and symbolism. Whether and to what extent this so-called “civil religion” serves as a basis for integration, as a common consensus of values ​​and how it is compatible with the principle of the separation of state and church, should be discussed in this paper.

First, the meaning of the term "civil religion" is examined in more detail. For this purpose, Jean-Jacques Rousseau will first be referred to, who described the phenomenon of the “réligion civile” in his fourth book of the “Du contrat social” around 1760, whereby many of the features he described are still based on the term “civil religion”. hold true. Then it is explained how Alexis de Toqueville in his work "De la Démocratie en Amérique", which he wrote after his trip to America in 1831, was the first to describe the "civil religion" in the USA. After discussing these two classics, the term “civil religion” will be described and presented from today's scientific point of view. The focus will be on the article by the American sociologist of religion Robert N. Bellah from 1967 entitled "Civil Religion", with which the author has brought the topic into the more recent discussion. After the terminology of the term "civil religion" has been clarified, the following part deals with the pluralism of US society and in particular with religious pluralism, which is the basis for the need for a common consensus of values ​​and a common integration ideology. Using examples, the manifestation of the “civil religion” in American culture will be shown, with the influence of the “civil religion” on political rhetoric in the USA being explained with the aid of the most recent examples. Finally, the question is then discussed whether the “civil religion” presented as an ideology of integration is useful for overcoming the segmentation of US society or whether this often-made claim does not apply.

2. Approach to the term "Civil Religion"

2.1 Coined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The term "civil religion" was first used in the French version "réligion civile" by Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778).[1] Rousseau recognized and described the conflict between state and church. According to Rousseau, the competition between the independent church and the state leads to a permanent conflict that prevents any good policy and leads to people being caught in the conflict between faith and law. According to Rousseau, this conflict can only be overcome by combining faith and state.[2] In his work “Du Contrat Social”, Book IV, Chapter 8, he therefore goes into the meaning of the “réligion civile”, which he sees as a purely bourgeois creed and which for him represents the connection between faith and the state. In Rousseau's theory of the state, the législateur (constitution-maker) determines the sovereign, the form of government and the state religion (réligion civile).[3] The "réligion civile" means "- similar to Hobbes - a certain minimum standard of uniform civic standards of behavior, that is, the canonization of civic virtues".[4] So it is not a matter of strictly religious dogmas but rather of "sentiments de sociabilité", without which one cannot be a good subject or citizen.[5] Rousseau continues: "The dogmas of bourgeois religion must be simple, few in number, and clearly expressed, and need no interpretation or explanation."[6] Among other things, the sanctity of the social contract and the laws apply very much here.[7] “Rousseau is looking for a strong bond that ties the citizen to the community of the state. And here the interest of the individual in the community to which he belongs through the social contract is clearly not enough for him, the solidarism that results from the community of interests is not enough for him - religion [as "civil religion", TS ]. "[8] According to Rousseau, Christianity is unsuitable as a "civil religion, since" due to its eschatological orientation it calls into question every existing community "[9] represents "and on the other hand the dogma of the forgiveness of sins reduces the fear of punitive justice and thus the citizen's sense of duty".[10] Rousseau considers the "civil religion" to be an integral part of a society based on a "social contract". He describes the effect of "Civil Religion" as follows: "instead of being a source of disunity within the State, it operates invincibly in the direction of unification, sanctifying patriotism, reinforcing solidarity and ensuring for the obligations of citizenship the ingrained respect which men reserve for the commands of divinity ".[11] Despite many parallels to the current interpretation of the term “civil religion”, there is also a serious difference, namely that Rousseau “understood his réligion civile as a religion to which every citizen has to submit for the purpose of promoting civic morality”.[12] The "civil religion" in Rousseau's sense is thus an imposed religion that is subject to the obligation to confess and serves as a means of enforcing the "volonté général".[13]

2.2 Coined by Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to the USA on behalf of the French government from 1831 to 1832 to study the conditions there in the prisons.[14] During his stay there he recognized the special relationship between religion and politics and described it in his work “De la Démocratie en Amérique”. Toqueville's statements about the peculiarities of American society and the relationship between religion and politics in the USA have retained their validity and hardly any consideration of “civil religion” can do without a reference to Toqueville. Toqueville's main insight into the relationship between religion and politics in the USA can be clearly summed up in a quote from his work: "Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions" .[15] The separation of church and state, which has remained a core element of American culture to this day, strengthens the cohesion of politics and religion, according to Toqueville. According to Toqueville, religion is becoming one of the "principal causes which tend to maintain the democratic republic in the United States"[16], it is firmly integrated into the public democratic system.[17] In addition to these findings, which lead Toqueville to the statement that the connection of religion with freedom is possible, but should not be considered further here, he observes the existence of a "republic réligion", which is a mixture of democratic values ​​and generalized beliefs understand and influence politics and culture.[18] Similar to Rousseau, he too sees the need for a common basis of conviction, here as a “republic réligion”, which is common to every citizen. He says: “In order for a state to be formed, and especially for it to flourish, the citizens must always be united and held together by some basic ideas; this is only possible if each of them draws his views from the same source and is ready to accept a certain number of ready-made beliefs. "[19] Toqueville, as an example of a newly founded state with a pluralistic population, served Toqueville as an ideal object of investigation to substantiate his assumptions about the development of a society, “because without common ideas there is no common action, and without common action people exist, but never a corporate body ”.[20] Toqueville also observes the power of the "civil religion", which he calls "republic réligion". According to his findings, it pushes itself with tremendous pressure from the "mass soul on the individual spirit"[21] on. “In the United States, the majority take it upon themselves to give individuals a lot of opinions, relieving them of the obligation to form their own. A wealth of philosophical, moral, or political theories everyone embraces unchecked, trusting the public. If you look closer, you will find that religion rules much less as a revealed doctrine than as public opinion. "[22] If you compare Rousseau's and Toqueville's interpretations of the “Civil Religion”, a lot of common ground emerges. There are differences, however, in the fact that Rousseau limits his "civil religion" to only one state, namely to the society that has concluded the social contract, while Toqueville does not limit it. Toqueville also sees the role of “civil religion” in the state as different from Rousseau. It should preserve the state, but not as an end in itself of the state but rather as an institution that guarantees people their individual freedoms.[23]


[1] See Schieder, Rolf, Civil Religion - The Religious Dimension of Political Culture, Gütersloh, 1987, p. 51.

[2] See Glum, Friedrich, Jean Jacques Rousseau - Religion und Staat, Stuttgart, 1956, pp. 194f.

[3] See Hartmann, Jürgen / Meyer, Bernd / Oldopp, Birgit, History of Political Ideas, Wiesbaden, 2002, p.108.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Uhde, Ute, Politics and Religion - On the relationship between democracy and Christianity in Alexis de Toqueville, Berlin, 1978, p. 92.

[6] Rousseau, J.J., The social contract or the principles of constitutional law - translation by Heinrich Weinstock, Stuttgart, 1958, p. 193.

[7] Cf. Withöft, Rainer, Civil Religion und Pluralismus, Frankfurt, 1998, p. 30.

[8] Glum, Friedrich, op. Cit., P. 194.

[9] Schieder, Rolf, op. Cit., P. 51.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Roche, F. Kennedy, Rousseau - Stoic and Romantic, London, 1974, p. 145.

[12] Schieder, Rolf, op. Cit., P. 52.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., P. 53.

[15] Toqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America - The Henry Reeve text as revised by Francis Bowen now further corrected and edited with a historical essay, editional notes, and bibliographies by Phillips Bradley - Volume 1, New York, 1954, p. 316.

[16] Ibid., P. 298.

[17] See Withöft, Rainer, op. Cit., P. 31.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Toqueville, Alexis de, On Democracy in America - Selected and Edited by J.P. Mayer, Stuttgart, 1985, pp. 219f.

[20] Ibid., P. 219.

[21] Ibid., P. 223.

[22] Ibid.

[23] See Uhde, Ute, op.

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