This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

American Civil Religion Reexamined: A Preliminary Study into Organic and Contrived Civil Theology




Vidal, Troy

Type of Degree



Political Science


Civil religion forms both the basis and the underlying reality for any human society, informing the myth structure of society and how a society interprets itself within the structure of reality. A distinction, however, can be made between two types of civil religion, namely, organic civil religion and contrived civil religion. An organic civil religion exists in a society when a socially binding myth structure develops over the course of several generations and serves to link society with a transcendent source of reality. A contrived civil religion, on the other hand, can be understood as the attempt by political theorists and political elites purposively to construct a socially binding myth structure to restore a civil religion whose tenets no longer hold influence over the society's population. A particular concern with the latter type is when such contrivances take on ideological implications and seek to identify the transcendent order, particularly as understood by Christian eschatology, with a concrete human society. Such immanentism runs the danger of generating modern totalitarian ideologies, ideologies that seek to incorporate corrupted elements of Christian eschatology within human societies and thus create ""heaven on earth."" The United States offers a convenient instance in which these two types of civil religion can be discerned and analyzed. The traditional American civil religion, which provided the myth structure for American society until the 1960s, can be understood as essentially organic in structure. Recent attempts to revive the traditional civil religion by American conservatives have, however, resulted in a contrivance that only appears to be a restoration of the traditional civil religion but, in reality, amounts to the establishment of an orthodoxy of a sectarian Protestant community drifting toward radical elements of Christian eschatology. This newly-institutionalized Protestant sectarianism, in turn, has been further radicalized around the notion that the United States embodies a certain divinely-ordained ""destiny.