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Abstract

In his article, “Civil Religion in America,” Robert N. Bellah attempted to demonstrate the existence of a unique American civil religion that was the product of an organic tradition dating back to the time of the Founding Fathers. This paper will however challenge that conception by historicizing some of the iconic rituals and symbols of American civil religion and examining them within their historic contexts. In doing so, this paper hopes to demonstrate that modern American civil religion is very much a product of the Cold War era. Nevertheless, the fact that many aspects of American civil religion appear to be genuine organic historical traditions demonstrates how successfully they have been incorporated into the American national psyche. This paper will draw heavily on the scholarship of Jonathan P. Herzog, who outlines in his book “The Spiritual Industrial Complex” how a coalition of influential Americans in the 1950s sought to arm America with religion in preparation for the existential confrontation with the atheistic Soviet Union during the Cold War. In doing so, they created many of the rituals and symbols of modern American civil religion.

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