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The American Civil Religion Debate: A Source for Theory Construction

Gail Gehrig
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 20, No. 1 (Mar., 1981), pp. 51-63
DOI: 10.2307/1385338
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1385338
Page Count: 13
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The American Civil Religion Debate: A Source for Theory Construction
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Abstract

American civil religion has been the subject of recent scholarly interest among American sociologists of religion, leading to a sociological debate. This paper examines the sociological literature concerning American civil religion in an attempt to order the literature into a coherent, comprehensive, and logical set of definitions and assumptions open to empirical investigation. Four basic propositions adapted from the work of John A. Coleman are framed to address the crucial questions most often asked by contemporary sociologists of American civil religion: (a) American civil religion is the religious symbol system which relates the citizen's role and American society's place in space, time, and history to the conditions of ultimate existence and meaning; (b) American civil religion is structurally differentiated from both the political community and the religious community; (c) American civil religion performs specialized religious functions performed neither by church nor state; and (d) the differentiation of American civil religion follows the general direction of cultural evolution. Review of the American civil religion literature reveals sufficient logical and empirical support for these propositions to recommend that they be used to guide further scientific inquiry.

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