Civil Religion in America

In this Topic of Focus, you will have an opportunity to examine a seminal work in the study of American civil religion; namely, Robert N. Bellah’s “Civil Religion in America.” First published in 1967 in Daedalus, this article kick-started a discussion among political scientists, sociologists, and religion scholars as to the nature of American civil religion. Critics and supporters of Bellah’s thesis remain active in debating its finer points. Some critics reject the concept of an American civil religion altogether. With this in mind, your task in this assignment is to write a short paper on the presidency’s role in giving expression to American civil religion. Complete the following steps:

Step 1: Read the following items.

  1. Robert N. Bellah’s article “Civil Religion in America.” You will have to search for this in the library databases and provide the appropriate citation. I want you to learn how to properly cite a journal article according to Chicago (Turabian) Author-Date style; thus, I am not providing the full citation here. The article is currently available in JSTOR and is dated 2005. The original 1967-version does not appear to be available in electronic form; thus, please use the 2005 version.
  2. Constitutional provisions creating and refining the process of selecting a president. You should have no problem locating the text of the Constitution, as it is a public document. A simple Internet search for the document should suffice.
    a. Article II, section 1
    b. 12th Amendment
    c. 14th Amendment, section 3
    d. 20th Amendment, sections 1-4
    e. 22nd Amendment, section 1
    f. 23rd Amendment, section 1
    g. 25th Amendment, sections 1-4
  3. One of the following presidential inaugural addresses. You should have no problem locating the text of any of these speeches, as they are public documents. A simple Internet search should suffice.
    a. Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981 (First Inaugural)
    b. George Bush, January 20, 1989
    c. Bill Clinton, January 20, 1993 (First Inaugural)
    d. George W. Bush, January 20, 2001 (First Inaugural)
    e. Barack Obama, January 20, 2009 (First Inaugural)
    f. Donald J. Trump, January 20, 2017
    g. Joseph R. Biden, January 20, 2021

Step 2: Based on these readings (and any other resources you might find appropriate), write a paper addressing the following items:

  1. Explain Robert N. Bellah’s concept of American civil religion.
    a. What is his thesis?
    b. How does he defend this thesis?
  2. Compare and contrast the formal process of selecting a president with the ceremonial nature of a presidential inaugural. Be advised, you will have to do some research on the ceremonial nature of presidential inaugurals.
  3. Apply your chosen inaugural address to Bellah’s thesis.
    a. Does the address exhibit elements of American civil religion?
    b. If so, what elements are these?
    c. If not, what elements are missing?


a. Length: Four (4) to six (6) pages (double spaced).
b. One-inch margins (top, bottom, left, right).
c. Font style/size: Calibri (Body)/12 point.
d. The paper must be properly documented.
e. Style Manual: Turabian, Kate L. 2018. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers,
Theses, and Dissertations. 9th ed. Revised by Wayne C. Booth, et al. Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press.
f. Style Form: Author-Date style.
g. Use Microsoft Word to type your paper. Wordpad, Pages, Notepad, and other
word processors are often incompatible with Canvas.
h. Be sure to put your name on the paper.

  1. Grading:
    a. Extent to which format guidelines are followed: 20 points possible.
    b. Extent to which Turabian documentation is followed: 20 points possible.
    c. Quality of writing components (style, spelling, grammar, etc.): 10 points
    d. Extent to which the stated questions are addressed: 150 points possible

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