Civil Religion in Political Thought

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CUA Press, Mar 1, 2010 - Political Science - 357 pages
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Civil religion has proven to be a religion that we cannot live without. It remains a persistent feature of most modern liberal societies, despite the apparent progress of religious toleration. Civil religion might have been a vestige of ages past, yet it persists even in contemporary North American political life, as is attested to by the consistent religious appeals of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The endurance of civil religion in modern liberal societies points to its significance as a political and theological problem of permanent concern.

There is a rich heritage of reflection on this problem that extends at least as far back as Plato's Laws. This volume includes essays on significant philosophical, theological, and political expressions of civil religion from a wide variety of sources in the Western intellectual and political tradition. With essays on ancient, medieval, and modern political philosophers, and essays on major statements and figures from the United States and Canada, this volume demonstrates why civil religion is an enduring political phenomenon.

The essays in this volume blend historical and philosophical reflection with concern for contemporary political problems. They show that the causes and motivations of civil religion are a permanent fixture of the human condition, though some of its manifestations and proximate causes have shifted in an age of multiculturalism, religious toleration, and secularization. These essays serve as a reminder that all political societies function within some unquestioned assumptions and commitments. The topic of civil religion turns our attention to the realm of action where human beings have little choice but to disclose the unexamined faith within which their lives unfold.


Ronald Weed is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of New Brunswick. His publications include Aristotle on Stasis: A Moral Psychology of Political Conflict and From Ancient Greek to Asian Philosophy. John von Heyking, associate professor of political science at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, is the author of Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World and Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought, as well as two volumes in the Collected Works of Eric Voegelin series. Besides Weed and von Heyking, the contributors are David J. Bobb, David C. Innes, Preston Jones, Joseph M. Knippenberg, Douglas Kries, V. Bradley Lewis, Wilfred M. McClay, Thomas F. Powers, Matthias Riedl, Jeffrey Sikkenga, and Travis D. Smith.


"The late-modern impulse is to 'privatize' religion, to see it as a personal matter with little relevance for how citizens order their public lives together. One of the services provided by this rich and wide-ranging collection of essays on civil religion in the western political tradition is to show that it is impossible to think about religion without thinking about politics and to think about politics without thinking about religion. There can be no separation of religion and politics in the life of the mind or in the hearts and souls of human beings. Whether writing about classic figures in western political thought or contemporary American or Canadian approaches to civil religion, the contributors to this volume demonstrate the sheer indispensability of political philosophy for allowing us to confront the dual nature of human beings as political and religious animals."--Daniel J. Mahoney, Assumption College

"The term 'civil religion' has become such an object of reflexive contempt among those who employ it that the term's analytical and descriptive purposes seem to have been forgotten. . . . There are good reasons to be profoundly wary of civil religion. But there are equally good reasons to be respectful of it. These essays are alive to both sets of reasons."--From the foreword


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Part Two The Enduring Relevance of Civil Religion in North America

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About the author (2010)

von Heyking is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Lethbridge in Canada.

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