Civil Religion or Christian Nationalism?

Image from Jeep commercial, of cross and map of America on the wall of a small chapel

How scholars use categories to name things, and thereby identify those things that deserve our critical attention, has long interested me. And among the things that have caught my attention over the years is the once prominent category “civil religion” — one made famous by the late U.S. sociologist Robert Bellah, drawing on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s much earlier use of the term in his 1762 book, The Social Contract (for e.g., see book 4, chpt. 8; read Bellah’s influential 1967 essay.) I first came to the term in the light of my studies of commentaries on Mircea Eliade’s early political activities in Romania, as a young man between the world wars. I was curious about the lengths to which his contemporary defenders went to protect him from any criticism — such as claiming that Eliade had exhibited what one scholar characterized as mere “patriotic fervor” or even “non-political nationalism” (see Carol Olson’s The Theology and Philosophy of Mircea Eliade [1992], 44-45 — something I discussed in Manufacturing Religion [1997], 90).

Now, those familiar with how “we” are patriots while “they” are nationalists shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, of course, knowing that national alignments and actions with which “we” agree are easily represented as positive and desirable. This suggests that the distinction between patriotism and nationalism is all in the eye of the self-interested beholder.

None of this is new, of course. Continue reading

Deifying Gandhi: National Icons and Moral Authority

munnabhai

Emily Vork is a sophomore majoring in History, Religious Studies, and American Studies. This post was written in response to viewing Lage Raho Munna Bhai as part of Dr. Sarah Rollens’ course, REL 360: Popular Culture/Public Humanities.

What makes a person worthy of being treated as a national icon? There are so many people who show up throughout history and stand out, even today. They remain in the collective mind of a region—or a nation, or the world—and history looks fondly upon them. Towards the top of the list of internationally-recognizable names is Gandhi—the famous nonviolence activist from India. But, of course, you already knew that.

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