American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present

Philip Gorski. Princeton Univ., $35 (336p) ISBN 978-0-691-14767-3
Gorski (The Protestant Ethic Revisited), a sociologist and religious studies professor at Yale, offers a sweeping and exhilarating review of the history of American political culture. He revives Robert Bellah’s famous idea of civil religion to look at three intertwined strands of political theology: religious nationalism, which fuses religion and politics; radical secularism, which completely divorces the two forces; and, midway, civil religion, which he sketches as a prophetic republicanism based on ideals drawn from biblical prophets and millennia of political philosophy. He analyzes key figures, offers refreshing insights into some, such as W.E.B. DuBois and John C. Calhoun, and is never shy about offering remedies for the corruption of the American civic spirit. National service is one bold recommendation to reawaken a spirit of public engagement. Gorski’s interpretation is likely to be challenged, and it should be, as part of the process of taking his thesis seriously and using it to move forward politically. More academics should follow his example of contributing to public debate in an accessible way. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/09/2017
Release date: 03/01/2017
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 336 pages - 978-1-4008-8500-8
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