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Fws Final Essay

1262 words - 6 pages

“Discuss what you see as the major advantages and disadvantages of religious discourse in the American public sphere.”

Until recent years, religious and political discourse managed to coexist in the American public sphere with little conflict or crossover between the two. At the nation’s founding, Thomas Jefferson declared in the Declaration of Independence that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. In early American politics, the American people generally understood this sort of religious language as noble sentiment rather than sacred dogma. Since the middle of the 20th century, however, ...view middle of the document...

” Without subscribing to any specific denomination, an individual may still be civilly religious if he or she maintains “a belief in the existence of a transcendent being called ‘God,’ an idea that the American nation is subject to God's laws, and an assurance that God will guide and protect the United States.” The espousal of this type of idea when discussing issues of public policy constitutes religious discourse entering the public sphere and faces proscription in the eyes of strict exclusionists. In a 1978 study conducted by sociologists James A. Christenson and Ronald C. Wimberly titled “Who is Civil Religious?”, the authors determined that the vast majority of Americans possess civil religious beliefs. Although Christenson and Wimberly found a significant degree of individual variation when it comes to civil religiosity, they were still able to determine that American society as a whole expresses it as an emergent property stemming from deeply ingrained cultural values. For this reason, religious language, in the context of civil religion, serves as a means of bridging gaps between otherwise disparate groups. When the President mentions the guiding providence of God in a speech, his words resonate with the great majority of the American populace. While the body of sociological research into the topic of civil religion has proven scarce in recent years, the general consensus is that civil religion remains a powerful unifying force in American society. According to the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, “overall, the available social scientific research finds that civil religious beliefs do exist in people's minds in the United States, that these beliefs are widely shared and provide a basis for pluralistic social integration across the society…” As a result of the power of civil religion in America, religious discourse in the public sphere proves beneficial in its ability to unite large swaths of the American public.
Another argument in favor of religion in American society is that it maintains the ability to slow the decline of social capital in the United States. According to Robert Putnam, one of the most influential sociologists in developing the theory of social capital, “social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.” Reduced to its most basic elements, a functional democracy relies upon a healthy degree of social capital to exist in society. A general sentiment of trustworthiness and camaraderie in society leads to increases in political and civic engagement that allow for the creation of an engaged and informed populace. As articulated by Wald and Calhoun-Brown, religious organizations can play a critical role in increasing the stock of social capital in society. Citing political scientist Ernest Griffith, they propose that religion may promote “active and constructive participation in community life: best based upon...

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