Religion and the American political culture: alternative models of citizenship and discipleship

Ted G. Jelen

For the past two decades, the proper role of religion in the American political system has been scrutinized quite carefully. The activities of the “New Christian Right” in recent years is only the most recent reminder that evaluations of the relationship between the sacred and the secular have been a frequently contentious issue in American politics (see especially Wills 1990). Some have argued that religious belief is an essential underpinning of the American political culture, while others have suggested that religion is something of a dangerous stranger to democratic politics. While there is general agreement that religion and political life ought to occupy independent spheres in American political life, the precise relationship remains elusive (see Jelen and Wilcox 1995).

The thesis of this essay is that disagreements about the appropriate role of religion in American politics result from disagreement about the general nature of democratic politics. Symbolically, “democracy” is a warm, positive entity, which officially has no enemies (Sartori 1965). Nevertheless, the essential characteristics of democratic government remain elusive and controversial. My purpose here is to survey a range of possibilities, and to suggest that the roles of religion in democratic theories are as varied and nuanced as democratic theories themselves.

A central theme of this analysis is that democratic politics ultimately has a cultural basis. While some would identify “democracy” with characteristic institutional features, such as elections, legal opposition political parties, or a free press, much history has suggested that such “democratic” institutions do not necessarily travel well, and that democratic political cultures may precede, rather than follow, democratic governmental forms.

My theoretical point of departure is Samuel Huntington’s essay, “Paradigms of American Politics: Beyond the One, the Two, and the Many” (1974). Huntington analyzes three models of democratic political culture in the United States, based on the number of politically consequential groups within the country. Theories of “the One” have as a central tenet the belief that the United States is characterized by a consensus on most cultural and political essentials. Other accounts of politics in the U.S. are dualistic (the “Two”), and organized around actual or suppressed conflict between two major groups. Finally, pluralism (theories of “the Many”) depict competition and cooperation between multiple groups as a source of democratic stability and civility. The purpose of this essay is to examine the role of religion in each model.


The broad outlines of the consensus tradition in American political theory are, of course, well known. Lacking either a peasantry or aristocracy, the United States has never been characterized in its history by enduring, carefully rationalized, social divisions. United States history lacks a feudal tradition, as contemporary American politics lacks an authentically socialist voice. Given an abundance of land on which one could literally “start over” (Turner 1920), divisions of class or status seemed temporary, or incidental. A myth of social mobility has served to prevent the exacerbation of status differences in this culture. Class politics in the United States have generally been emulative, rather than redistributive (Jelen 1990). The United States, uniquely among Western nations, could be characterized by a lack of principled disagreement over fundamental principles of humanity or citizenship. While conflicts clearly occur in American politics, the consensus tradition involves the claim that political conflict in the United States takes place within relatively clearly defined boundaries, and that the rules governing political disputes are not the subject of partisan debate (Hartz 1955; Boorstin 1990).

Several observers have suggested that religion (either Christianity, or, more recently, a “Judeo-Christian tradition”) forms an essential part of the American consensus. In this view, we as a people not only agree on a set of rules, but on a substantive set of moral and metaphysical principles with a transcendent basis. Alexis de Tocqueville (1945) argued that Christianity is among the factors which limit the extent of conformism in the United States, by providing boundaries on the effects of public opinion. Christianity is thought to impose a moral consensus on the United States, but by fixing the principles of ethics, rather than theology. Doctrine can and does differ between denominations, but Tocqueville asserts that there are no essential differences between sects with respect to morality. The general agreement on the elements of Christian morality provide limits within which merely human politics can take place.

Peter Berger (1969) has made a similar argument: A generalized belief in religion provides a transcendent framework (a “sacred canopy”) for merely human agency. In a more recent work, Berger (1979) takes the contemporary absence of such a religious-moral consensus to be an accomplished fact, and reviews several (ultimately unsatisfactory) individual alternatives for the affirmation of religious faith. Once religion (understood as a single, cultural force) loses its “taken for granted” character, it also loses its power to shape and to limit human action (see also Neuhaus 1984; and Reichley 1985).

The notion that an American consensus includes a religious component depends crucially on two claims: First, that it is possible to determine commonly-held principles among the religious groups which comprise the American religious mosaic, and second, that religion provides a uniquely solid basis by which such principles come to be held. What sorts of religious or moral beliefs might be required of citizens who inhabit such a consensual democracy? The key normative issue for such a polity would seem to be the appropriate scope and extent of political tolerance. If indeed an American consensus has a substantive religious basis, we are clearly not required to tolerate the expression of any idea or practice. Unlike the paradoxes which might characterize a consensus on Lockean individualism (see Wills 1970), there is no necessity for the fiction that society is open to any idea in a religiously or ethically consensual society. Under such a system, tolerance for diversity cannot, and should not, be unlimited. Whatever the (necessarily vague) boundaries of the societal consensus might be, it is important that they not be violated, and that violators of the consensus not be tolerated. As journalist and presidential candidate Pat Buchanan put it:

When we say we will put America first, we mean also that our Judeo-Christian values are going to be preserved and our Western heritage is going to be handed down to future generations and not dumped into some landfill called multiculturalism. . . . I think God made all people good, but if we were to take a million immigrants in, say Zulus, or Englishmen, and put them in Virginia, what group would be easier to assimilate and cause less problems for the people of Virginia? (Germond and Witcover 1993:136).

Nevertheless, it is quite important that citizens in a consensual polity reserve their intolerance for those who truly lie outside the broad societal agreement, and tolerate those with whom they have minor or intramural differences. To the extent that consensus has a religious component, this would require a spirit of ecumenism within a broad range of religious traditions (e.g., “Christianity,” a “Judeo-Christian tradition,” etc.). A spirit of religious particularism, in which the believer argues for the superiority of her particular tradition (Stark and Glock 1968; Jelen 1991, 1993a), is divisive, and threatens the sense of general agreement. Doctrines about papal infallibility, the authority of Scriptures, and glossolalia might well be central to particular religious traditions, but public disagreement over such issues may well undermine the ethical consensus on which political cohesion may depend (see especially Wilcox 1992).(1)

What this means is that Tocqueville was quite correct in asserting that ethics, rather than doctrine, must form the basis for a general societal agreement. Again, it is by no means clear how one might separate ethical principles (proscribing, say adultery, theft, homosexuality, etc.) from their religious basis. But clearly, religious doctrines which are sources of religious conflict and prejudice are undesirable from the standpoint of religion’s main effect of promoting political cohesion.

Such a consensual, integrating religion carries some risks of its own. A prevailing religious tradition may provide a transcendent basis for all sorts of prejudice and discrimination. Indeed, many “nativist” movements in American history have had an implicitly or explicitly religious basis (Reichley 1985; Jelen 1991). A belief in an authentically “American” religious tradition may further the conformist tendencies of a liberal consensus, by seeming to sanctify the dominant culture at the expense of more social or religiously marginal people.

Moreover, participation in a generally consensual style carries some risks for the practice of religion as well. Religion in this sense has a “priest[y,” rather than a “prophetic” function (Leege 1993). That is, religion legitimates the prevailing social order, rather than serving as an external source of social criticism. In theological terms, this involves the risk of idolatry, or the legitimation of contemporary political structures in religious terms.(2) Religion, in such a culture, may lack independent basis from which to criticize prevailing social practices. A politically consensual religion may well be capable of identifying and sanctioning socially deviant behavior, but may not be equipped to challenge the established norms of the culture.

Further, such ethically-based religion is, from the standpoint of most forms of Christianity, potentially heretical. Christianity is based on the doctrine of Original Sin, without which, Christ’s substitutory atonement on the Cross has little meaning. The doctrine of Original Sin carries with it the notion that salvation cannot be directly “earned” through good works, but must be granted by God’s sanctifying grace. Indeed, most, if not all, variants of Christianity provide some means of access to God’s grace (sacraments, spiritual gifts, the experience of being “born-again,” etc.) in order to make salvation possible (John Paul II 1993:37). This would require an attitude of humility on the part of the individual believer, since all are sinful in God’s eyes (see especially Tinder 1989). While good works would certainly be expected to follow from the gift of divine grace (however this might be defined by a specific religious tradition), it is unlikely that anyone would argue that such works cause salvation, or define religious virtue. A religiously-based consensus, if such a thing were to exist, would thus depend on adherence to an aspect of Christianity which many Christians, and most Christian elites, would regard as epiphenomenal.

In order to implement a religiously-consensual political culture, it seems clear that religious symbols and imagery should be encouraged among institutions which affirm common citizenship. While identifying religious beliefs with particular candidates, parties, or policies may undermine a religiously consensual polity, religion has a place in such “civic” arenas as schools, public buildings, national holidays, and other regime symbols. Thus, consensus theorists might regard such practices as organized prayer in public schools, religious holiday displays on public property, and sabbath observances as important means by which a societal agreement on religious fundamentals is maintained. Consensus theorists such as Neuhaus and Reichley often argue that reminders of our common religious heritage serve to reinforce what is taken to be an ethical consensus. Following Tocqueville, such analysts argue that religious diversity is limited to matters of doctrine, while there is little dissensus among Christians around ethical or moral matters. There is thus thought to exist a strong (if somewhat vague) connection between a general religious consensus and general agreement about ethics.

This, in turn, implies a particular interpretation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution. A consensual account of the American political culture would probably involve an “accommodationist” reading of the Establishment Clause, in which government is proscribed from assisting particular religious denominations, but is permitted to provide neutral support to religion in general. Similarly, a consensus theorist might hold an expansive reading of the Free Exercise Clause, in the sense of reading this provision as allowing popular majorities to use government to implement their religious preferences (Reichley 1985; Jelen and Wilcox 1995). Government, in this account, should approach religion from a standpoint of benevolent neutrality (Monsma 1993).


In recent years the United States has witnessed a movement, often termed the “New Christian Right,”(3) which explicitly seeks to restore religiously-based values into public discourse. While there is little new about evangelical political activity (Jelen 1991; Wilcox 1992), spokespersons of the NCR typically argue that the United States has historically been characterized by a value consensus around Christian morality, which has been undermined in recent years by the doctrine of “secular humanism” (see especially Falwell 1980; Lienesch 1993). Adherents of Christian Right organizations such as Moral Majority or (more recently) Christian Coalition seek to restore the consensual polity described in the previous section.

In its most conspiratorial form, the argument advanced by some religious conservatives is that a small group of unrepresentative elites have gained control of the means of communication (which would include the news media, cinema, and educational institutions), and have advanced a humanist agenda on the more pious, orthodox members of society (see especially Rusher 1988; and Lichter, Rothman, and Lichter 1986).

What is of most direct interest here is the division of society into two classes: A secular or humanist elite, which has disproportionate control over the means of communication, and a more religious mass (a “moral majority”?). In contrast to consensus theories, in which only one group is thought to exist, the rhetoric of the Christian Right is characterized by dualism (see, for example, Blanchard and Prewitt 1993). Perhaps the most thorough analysis of American politics from this dualistic perspective is James Davison Hunter’s Culture wars: The struggle to define America (1991). Hunter argues that contemporary American culture is divided into proponents of “orthodoxy” and “progressivism.” These two worldviews, which pit religious conservatives of all stripes against secularists and religious “modernists,” create a societal cleavage which supersedes previously salient differences between denominations, social classes, or racial groups.

Two general themes stand out in Hunter’s analysis. First, the ranks of the religiously orthodox have been infused with a “New Ecumenism” (Hunter 1991: 97-102). Previous instances of religious particularism, such as anti-Catholicism or anti-semitism, have been rendered obsolete by the threat of Progressivism. Second, there does not exist much potential for dialogue and compromise between the Progressives and the Orthodox, since both have elaborate (and ultimately incommensurable) worldviews, for which there exists very little common ground. Protagonists in the culture war do not, according to Hunter, respect the motives, values, or goals of their adversaries. The rhetoric of activists on both sides of the cultural divide is characterized by exaggeration and by attacks on the motives and intentions of those on the other side. Thus, one of the first casualties of the culture war is likely to be political civility.(4)

From the standpoint of the orthodox, tolerance is, again, an instrumental value; from the perspective of the religiously orthodox, it is clearly important to embrace the spirit of ecumenism, and to refrain from intramural disputes over religious doctrine. Indeed, it has been noted by several analysts that the Christian Right manifestation of the 1980s was fragmented by the influence of religious particularism (Jelen 1991, 1993a; Wilcox 1992; Jelen and Wilcox 1993). As was the case with respect to the consensus model, this would seem to require that ethics, rather than theology, provide the focus for political mobilization. Christian Coalition’s recent emphasis on “family values” (Stains 1994; Reed 1994) appears to be a sophisticated effort to mobilize religious conservatives around the applications of “Christianity,” while leaving discussion of the doctrinal bases for those applications rather vague.

It may well be the case that finessing theological divisions is easier when religious conservatives are confronted with a visible, articulate opposition. The existence of humanists, liberals, and other less-than-orthodox people in positions of power and influence may provide an incentive to form politically plausible coalitions.(5) Given the doctrinal diversity of those Hunter characterizes as “orthodox,” a coalition of religious conservatives may require highly visible feminist, gay rights, or secular humanist opponents (see especially Riker 1962). Tolerance, while an important value within one’s own ranks, is not necessarily desirable when applied to the other side.

Does a dualistic polity enhance or detract from American democracy? It might be argued that a politically mobilized faction of religious conservatives may provide a genuinely prophetic voice in American politics (Leege 1993). That is, given political pressures toward compromise, accommodation, and ambiguity, providing a moral critique of American politics may be a valuable service. Participants across the political spectrum can make use of occasional reminders that there are other political goals besides victory.

However, such a moral, prophetic voice may come with some rather high costs of its own. Chief among these might be a decline in political civility, which would include a respect for the rules of American politics, a respect for the motives of one’s opponents, and a willingness to accept (perhaps temporarily) an unfavorable outcome (Jelen 1994; Shils 1992). Indeed, Hunter (1994) seems most pessimistic about civil politics in the midst of mobilization over cultural and moral issues. A large literature has shown that religious conservatives tend to be less supportive of the First Amendment rights of unpopular minorities than other Americans (Jelen and Wilcox 1990; Wilcox and Jelen 1990; and Green, et al. 1994). Finally, of course, a small minority of religiously-motivated activists have resorted to illegal and occasionally violent activity (Blanchard and Prewitt 1993; Blanchard 1994; Maxwell and Jelen 1994). The fact that only a small minority of religious activists engage in such unconventional political participation does not seem to alter the pernicious (from the standpoint of democratic stability) effects of this activity.

The problem of political civility in dualistic systems also implies a risk to the practice of religion as well. A cognitive division of society into “saints” and “sinners” might entail the sin of pride, or feelings of moral superiority over those on the “progressive” side of the culture war. Glenn Tinder (1989) reminds us that even our judgments about right and wrong, and about the “correct” meaning of the scriptures are necessarily corrupt, limited, and therefore flawed. Even for the orthodox (perhaps especially for the orthodox) salvation is a quest, which proscribes passing judgment.

A corollary of the foregoing analysis is that partisanship is an important property of a dualistic, mobilized polity. Partisanship has two important characteristics which would contribute to participation in a “culture war.” First, the exigencies of electoral politics make the need for forming coalitions quite clear. The first requirement for governing in American politics is to attain a plurality. The existence of a “winner take all” electoral system in American politics, as well as very tangible successes and failures in the electoral arena, creates strong pressures to suppress intramural disagreements (Jelen and Wilcox 1992). Elsewhere (Jelen 1991) I have suggested that the forces of religious particularism which fragment support for figures of the Christian Right do not seem to affect evangelical support for the Republican party.(6) Second, electoral mobilization may channel religious zeal into legal, socially acceptable modes of participation. Religiously dualistic politics contains the temptation to move beyond conventional forms of political activity (Blanchard and Prewitt 1993).


A final model of democratic political cultures derives strength and stability from social, economic, and religious diversity. The “pluralist paradigm” (Huntington 1974) has deep historical roots. James Madison, in “Federalist #10” (Hamilton 1937), argued that a multiplicity of economic interests and religious sects were a source of stability, by making it unlikely that any one interest could dominate American politics, and by making coalitions difficult to form. Compromise and accommodation are necessary to form politically powerful factions. As the number and diversity of groups forming political coalitions increases, the area of agreement between them is likely to become progressively smaller, and difficult to maintain over time. More recent exemplars of pluralist theory would include Arthur Bentley (1980), David Truman (1971), Edward Banfield (1961), and Robert Dahl (1961).

The notion that politics involves the interplay of competing groups is a hypothesis common to all pluralist theorists, and which has two important implications. First, in a society as economically and religiously diverse as the United States, it is very difficult to produce a winning electoral coalition. In order to make fifty-one percent (allegedly the art of politics), candidates must make very broad, general appeals to large blocs of voters. Further, the necessity of broad, diverse electoral coalitions generally means that candidates, once elected, will have relatively little discretion in enacting particular policies, lest they offend an important component of their political bases. This in turn suggests that, generally, participation in electoral politics will be a relatively unrewarding activity for groups with fairly clearly-defined political goals (see especially Shienbaum 1984). Elections are rather blunt instruments for those with specific policy goals.

Second, it is often argued (Shienbaum 1984; Dahl 1961) that the American political system, characterized by federalism and separated governmental powers at virtually all levels, provides multiple points of access for citizens interested in influencing public policy. The fact that the system is so open, and permits many resources to count in political conflicts (Dahl 1961), suggests that the willingness of individuals or groups to expend resources on political matters is a rough, but reliable, indicator of the intensity of preferences which individuals may hold (Banfield 1961). Since most groups are allowed to attempt influence, public policies are regarded as a rough indicator of the degree of actual support for various alternatives. Moreover, the system of interest group representation is thought to be dynamic, since groups may enter and leave the political arena as their interests are affected by government decisions.(7)

Implicit in this description of the American political system is the notion that politics is generally a zero-sum game, with successes for one group exacting costs for others. Thus, a group which threatens to dominate a particular jurisdiction or policy area is likely to encounter countervailing mobilization on the part of groups with different interests. It follows from this that ecumenism is of extremely limited value in a pluralistic system. From a pluralist standpoint, what protects the religious liberty and prerogatives of religious minorities is precisely the diversity of the American religious mosaic. Thus, religious particularism, with its associated emphasis on theological doctrine and tendency toward political fragmentation, is a trait highly desirable in a pluralistic polity.

The desirability of defining religious group membership narrowly derives from the fact that religious groups, like other groups, will have a variety of policy preferences, which may be shared or opposed by other denominations or religious families. We might, for example, find a Catholic-Evangelical “pro-life” coalition on the abortion issue, which would part company on the issue of teaching “scientific creationism.” A Mainline-Muslim coalition could have formed in opposition to American policy in the Gulf War of 1992 (Hertzke 1992), which could have fragmented over issues of women’s rights. It is possible that an Evangelical-Jewish coalition might form around support for Israel, but that these groups might be divided over the issue of school prayer (for a general account of coalition formation among religious interest groups, see Zwier 1989). Given that religious groups have a variety of different combinations of interests and preferences, alliance flexibility might enable such groups to pursue their values in the public arena more effectively.

Moreover, recent research has suggested that religious devotion and adherence may be maximized by narrow definitions of religious identity. Iannaccone (1991, 1994) and Finke and Stark (1992) have suggested that religious organizations can be usefully compared to) firms in an economy. Denominations which exist in competitive religious markets must work at making themselves and their messages attractive to potential adherents, while churches in monopolistic situations (i.e., churches which are legally established) may not be as motivated to attract adherents. Consequently, religious observance and commitment tend to be much higher in situations in which there exists religious competition (for an excellent overview of this research, see Warner 1993).

A corollary of this form of analysis is that religious denominations may be successful at attracting and retaining members to the extent that they are able to distinguish themselves from their competitors. This sort of spiritual “product differentiation” suggests that denominations will succeed to the extent that they avoid being considered part of large, theological “families” (Kellstedt and Green 1993), and emphasize their unique characteristics.(8) Thus, the precise characteristics of churches which enable them to be effective at recruitment and retention may render them relatively ineffective at political organization (Jelen 1993b).

All this implies that tolerance is an important citizen characteristic in pluralistic polities. Because there are multiple religious groups, and because each group has multiple preferences, coalitional flexibility may be important. Since it is difficult to determine which issues will reach the public agenda a priori, religious groups who hope to attain goals through the political system ought not rule out cooperation with any potential ally.(9)

Conversely, partisanship may not be a desirable citizen characteristic in pluralistic polities, precisely because party organization in American politics tends to aggregate preferences, and make certain political alliances more difficult. Partisan attitudes tend to be quite stable,(10) and therefore may limit the range of permissible political coalitions. For pluralistic politics to flourish in the American political culture, religious groups should have multiple access points, and multiple strategies, to influence public policy. Lobbying might be effective in some instances, litigation in others. Some religious values might be best served by disseminating propaganda. In other words, interest groups, rather than political parties, are the most appropriate means for practicing religious politics in a pluralist polity.

This sort of pluralistic politics carries with it some risks for both the practice of democratic politics and Christian religion. The political risk is that of privatization: Narrowly defined religious denominations might come to regard themselves as too small and too distinctive to engage in political combat, and might therefore withdraw from the public sphere entirely. If one believes that religious groups are entitled to “a place at the table” of public discourse, and can bring important perspectives to bear on public debate (see especially Greenawalt 1988; and Cochran 1990), the political life of the nation may well be impoverished if religious organizations come to regard political involvement as futile and unrewarding. Alternatively, some members of religious movements may seek to influence public policy through the direct use of civil disobedience or violence (Blanchard and Prewitt 1993; Blanchard 1994). As Rawls (1992) has suggested, politics within a pluralistic universe of worldviews requires allegiance to a set of procedures independent of particular belief systems. Such adherence to the norms of democratic civility may not exist among highly privatized believers.

Conversely, the risk to the practice of religion is that religious activists may learn the lessons of politics all too well, and may lose contact with their spiritual moorings. The problem of relativism is an acute one in pluralist systems, since the need for intergroup cooperation may come to supersede the unique theological mission of each denomination. For religious groups in pluralist systems, then, the uncompromising demands of spirituality may exist in tension with the pressures toward accommodation exerted by the political world. Indeed, the recent decline of Mainline churches (Roof and McKinney 1987) may be attributable to the emphasis placed on political goals, and a deemphasis on the theological distinctiveness of particular denominations (Hadden 1969).

This problem may be exacerbated by the emphasis on interest group politics described above. For a religious group to use multiple tactics in multiple arenas, a certain level of political sophistication (perhaps even professionalism) is required. Active participation in the public sphere by “new class” professionals may reduce the orthodoxy or religiosity of activists (Hunter 1980).


Thus, the contributions and costs of religious involvement in democratic politics depend crucially on the style of democratic politics under consideration. Citizen characteristics which may be quite desirable under one description of the American political culture may well be irrelevant or pernicious under another.

This point is illustrated most clearly with respect to the variable nature of political tolerance. Traditionally, one of the strongest arguments against religious involvement in democratic politics has been the often-reported negative relationship between evangelicalism, and religiosity generally, and tolerance toward the First Amendment rights of non-conformists. Religion is often thought to bring an uncompromising (and therefore inappropriate) dogmatism to political discourse (Jelen and Wilcox 1991). Tolerance, under such a description, is not simply a policy preference, but is an important norm underlying democratic civility. However, the foregoing account suggests that only under a pluralist description of American politics is tolerance an unqualified value. While both consensus and dualistic theories of American political religion value ecumenism (apparently required if religion is to be a politically potent resource), both accounts carry the implication that tolerance has definite and important limits. Tolerance is, in a pluralist system, desirable because diversity permits the political flexibility on which interest group politics depends. However, such flexibility is pernicious if the goal of politics is the maintenance of a societal consensus, or mobilization against a common cultural enemy.

Similarly, the role of partisanship among believers varies across models of the American political culture. In a dualist culture in which the “orthodox” are pitted against the “progressives,” attachment to political parties is a source of mobilization and civility, and may act as a strong counterweight to the fragmenting effects of religious particularism. Under consensus or pluralist theories, religious partisanship is not nearly as desirable. For consensus theorists, religiously-based partisan attachments may undermine the universality with which the essentials of the Judeo-Christian tradition are thought to be held. For pluralists, stable partisan attachments may limit the range of politically permissible coalitions, and may thus inhibit the process of bargaining and compromise central to this model.

Finally, this analysis suggests that adherents of different models of the American political culture will emphasize diverse institutions by which religious values might be included in political life. The extent to which the locus of public religious activity should revolve around regime symbols, elections, or interest group activity varies around one’s general sense of the American political culture. Disagreements about appropriate or inappropriate religious-political activities, or indeed about the meaning of church-state separation, are generally disputes about the nature of American democracy.

1 For a rather graphic illustration of the difficulties associated with an evangelical-Catholic coalition, see White 1988.

2 In some ways, this problem seems particularly acute when considering Bellah’s (1968) concept of “civil religion.” However, Christenson and Wimberley (1978) have suggested that civil religious beliefs are not strongly related to other religious variables, and can potentially exist in the absence of different types of religiosity.

3 The literature on the Christian Right is voluminous. For overviews, see Wilcox 1992, and Lienesch 1993.

4 Although the mobilization of the religiously orthodox has received relatively greater attention from journalists and scholars, a dualistic worldview also characterizes the rhetoric of some activists on the “progressive” side of the culture war. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, and People for the American Way routinely include attacks on “fundamentalists” or “the Religious Right” or “the radical Religious Right” in their direct mail appeals. See Jelen and Wilcox 1995.

5 It might be argued that among the problems confronting the Christian Right in the 1980s and early 1990s was the fact that it was difficult to maintain a sense of crisis after twelve years of presumably sympathetic Republican presidents.

6 The aggregating characteristics of partisanship, and of two-party electoral politics generally, may explain evangelical support for presidential candidates with rather slender evangelical credentials, such as Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Candidates with more specific religious identifications (i.e., Pat Robertson) may fall victim to the effects of religious particularism (Green 1993; Langenbach and Green 1992).

7 Such a system is “fair,” of course, only to the extent that groups can form easily, and can gain access to political arenas. The system of pluralist representation ceases to be self-correcting when groups lack the resources to attempt political influence (Schattschneider 1960). In a religious context, access to public discourse can be blocked by a broad view of the separation of church and state. A relatively narrow interpretation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment may be a necessary condition for a genuinely pluralistic religious politics (Reichley 1985; Jelen and Wilcox 1995).

8 Some research has suggested that evangelical churches are much more likely to distinguish themselves from their most immediate competitors far more effectively than Mainline churches (Finke and Stark 1992; Jelen 1993b). To the extent that this theological differentiation encourages religious particularism, it follows that doctrinally conservative churches will be relatively advantaged in recruiting and retaining members, but somewhat disadvantaged when organizing and mobilizing for political action.

9 An interesting set of coalition partners emerged in 1992 in support of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, designed to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith. Supporters of this act included a variety of Jewish groups, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the ACLU.

10 The literature on party identification is voluminous. For an excellent overview, see Asher 1992.


Asher, H. B. 1992. Presidential elections in American politics: Voters, candidates, and campaigns since 1952. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Banfield, E. C. 1961. Political influence. Glencoe, IL. The Free Press.

Bellah, R. N. 1968. Civil religion in America. In Religion in America, edited by W. McLoughlin and R. N. Bellah, 3-23. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

Bentley, A. 1980. The process of government. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Berger, P. L. 1969. The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

—–. 1979. The heretical imperative: Contemporary possibilities of religious affirmation. Garden City, NY: Anchor.

Blanchard, D. A. 1994. The anti-abortion movement and the rise of the Religious Right: From polite to firey protest. New York: Twayne.

Blanchard, D. A., and T. J. Prewitt. 1993. Religious violence and abortion: The Gideon Project. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press.

Boorstin, D. 1990. The genius of American politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Christenson, J. A., and R. C. Wimberley. 1979. Who is civil religious? Sociological Analysis 39:77-83.

Cochran, C. E. 1990. Religion in private and public life. New York: Routledge.

Dahl, R. A. 1961. Who governs? Democracy and power in an American city. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Falwell, J. 1980. Listen, America!. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Finke, R., and R. Stark. 1992. The churching of America: 1776-1992: Winners and losers in our religious economy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Germond, J. W., and J. Witcover. 1993. Mad as hell: Revolt at the ballot box, 1992. New York: Warner Books.

Green, J. C. 1993. Pat Robertson and the latest crusade: Religious resources and the 1988 presidential campaign. Social Science Quarterly 74:157-168.

Green, J. C., J. L. Guth, L. A. Kellstedt, and C. E. Smidt. 1994. Uncivil challenges: Support for civil liberties among religious activists. Journal of Political Science 22:25-49.

Greenawalt, K. 1988. Religious convictions and political choice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hadden, J. K. 1969. The gathering storm in the churches. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Hamilton, A., J. Madison, and J. Jay. 1937. The Federalist. New York: Modern Library.

Hartz, L. 1955. The liberal tradition in America. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Hertzke, A.D. 1992. An assessment of the mainline churches since 1945. In The role of religion in the making of public policy, edited by J. E. Wood, Jr. and D. Davis, 43-80. Waco, TX: J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies.

Hunter, J. D. 1980. The new class and the young evangelicals. Review of Religious Research 22:155-169.

—–. 1991. Culture wars: The struggle to define America. New York: Basic Books.

—–. 1994. Before the shooting begins. New York: The Free Press.

Huntington, S. 1974. Paradigms of American politics: Beyond the one, the two, and the many. Political Science Quarterly 89:1-26.

Iannaccone, L. R. 1991. The consequences of religious market structure. Rationality and Society 3:156-177.

——. 1994. Why strict churches are strong. American Journal of Sociology 99:1180-1211.

Jelen, T. G. 1990. The impact of home ownership on whites’ racial attitudes. American Politics Quarterly 18:208-214.

—–. 1991. The political mobilization of religious beliefs. New York: Praeger.

—–. 1993a. The political consequences of religious group attitudes. Journal of Politics 55:178-190.

—–. 1993b. The political world of the clergy. Westport, CT: Praeger.

—–. 1994. Conclusion: The future of the abortion debate. In Religion and politics in the United States and Canada: Studies in public opinion, edited by T. G. Jelen and M. A. Chandler, 185-193. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Jelen, T. G., and C. Wilcox. 1990. Denominational preference and the dimensions of political tolerance. Sociological Analysis 51:69-80.

—–. 1991. Religious dogmatism among white Christians: Causes and effects. Review of Religious Research 33:32-46.

—–. 1992. The effects of religious self-identifications on support for the New Christian Right: An analysis of political activists. Social Science Journal 29:199-210.

—–. 1993. The Christian Right in the 1990s: Problems and prospects. The Public Perspective 4 (March/April): 10-12.

—–. 1995. Public attitudes toward church and state. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

John Paul II. 1993. The splendor of truth: Regarding certain fundamental questions of the church’s moral teaching. Washington, DC: U.S. Catholic Conference.

Kellstedt, L. A., and J. C. Green. 1993. Knowing God’s many people: Denominational preference and political behavior. In Rediscovering the religious factor in American politics, edited by D. C. Leege and L. A. Kellstedt, 53-71. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Langenbach, L., and J. C, Green. 1992. Hollow core: Evangelical clergy and the 1988 Robertson campaign. Polity 25:147-158.

Leege, D.C. 1993. Religion and politics in theoretical perspective. In Rediscovering the religious factor in American politics, edited by D. C. Leege and L. A. Kellstedt, 3-25. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Lichter, S. R., S. Rothman, and L. S. Lichter. 1986. The media elite. Bethesda, MD: Adler and Adler.

Lienesch, M. 1993. Redeeming America: Piety and politics in the New Christian Right. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Maxwell, C. J. C., and T. G. Jelen. 1994. Religious and secular objectives for pro-life direct action. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Albuquerque, NM, November.

Monsma, S. V. 1993. Positive neutrality: Letting religious freedom ring. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Neuhaus, R. J. 1984. The naked public square: Religion and democracy in America. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Rawls, J. 1992. Political liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Reed, R. 1994. Politically incorrect. Dallas, TX: Word.

Reichley, A. J. 1985. Religion in American public life. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.

Riker, W. H. 1962. The theory of political coalitions. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Roof, W. C., and W. McKinney. 1987. American mainline religion. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Rusher, W. 1988. The coming battle for the media: Curbing the power of the media elite. New York: William Morrow.

Sartori, G. 1965. Democratic theory. New York: Praeger.

Schattschneider, E. E. 1960. The semisovereign people: A realist’s view of democracy in America. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Shienbaum, K. E. 1984. Beyond the electoral connection: A reassessment of the role of voting in contemporary American politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Shils, E. 1992. Civility and civil society. In Civility and citizenship in liberal democratic societies, edited by Edward C. Banfield, 1-16. New York Paragon House.

Stains, L. R. 1994. Religion as politics. USA Weekend, 16-18 September, 4-6.

Stark, R., and C. Y. Glock. 1968. American piety: The nature of religious commitment. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tinder, G. 1989. The political meaning of Christianity: An interpretation. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

Tocqueville, A. Democracy in America, edited by P. Bradley. 2 vol. New York: Vintage.

Truman, D. 1971. The governmental process. New York: Knopf.

Turner, F. J. 1920. The frontier in American history. New York: H. Holt and Company.

Warner, R. S. 1993. Work in progress toward a new paradigm for the sociological study of religion in the United States. American Journal of Sociology 98:1044-1093.

White, E.G. 1988. America in prophecy. Jemison, AL: Inspiration Books East.

Wilcox, C. 1992. God’s warriors: The Christian Right in twentieth-century America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wilcox, C., and T. G. Jelen. 1990. Evangelicals and political tolerance. American Politics Quarterly 18:25-46.

Wills, G. 1970. Nixon agonistes. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

—–. 1990. Under God. New York: Simon and Schuester.

Zwier, R. 1989. Coalition strategies of religious interest groups. In Religion and political behavior in the United States, edited by T. G. Jelen, 171-186. New York: Praeger.

Ted G. Jelen Illinois Benedictine College

COPYRIGHT 1995 Association for the Sociology of Religion

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

You May Also Like

Religious involvement among unmarried adolescent mothers: a source of emotional support?

Religious involvement among unmarried adolescent mothers: a source of emotional support? Ann Marie Sorenson Pregnancy is said to be …

Introduction to this special issue of sociology of Religion

Introduction to this special issue of sociology of Religion Harriet Hartman It is a pleasure to introduce this special issue of Soc…

Religion, Deviance, and Social Control.

Religion, Deviance, and Social Control. – book reviews John H. Simpson RODNEY STARK AND WILLIAM SIMS BAINBRIDGE. New York and London…

Shared Beliefs, Different Lives: Women’s Identities in Evangelical Context.

Shared Beliefs, Different Lives: Women’s Identities in Evangelical Context. – book review Laurel Keams Shared Beliefs, Different Li…