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Religious Rhetoric in American Populism: Civil Religion as Movement Ideology

Rhys H. Williams and Susan M. Alexander
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 33, No. 1 (Mar., 1994), pp. 1-15
DOI: 10.2307/1386633
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386633
Page Count: 15
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Religious Rhetoric in American Populism: Civil Religion as Movement Ideology
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Abstract

Analysis of the rhetoric of late nineteenth-century American Populism reveals it to be replete with religious language, symbolism, and references. Far from being incidental to Populism's basic message, the religious language was an important resource in the movement's ideology. Religious rhetoric, drawn particularly from American "civil religious" discourse, gave Populism a politically legitimate vocabulary and helped constitute the movement's attempt at striking a balance between individual liberty and communal equality. Religious themes were crucial to the movement's critique of its society and its prescription for a better world. We argue that such rhetoric is too often overlooked due to assumptions about Populism's essentially "economic" message; however, in order to understand Populism as a movement, it is necessary to understand the language with which it presented itself.

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