ASU Insight: In search of our better angels — a story of America’s civil religion
2017 Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Speaker on Religion and Conflict
The causes behind the United States' current polarization was the topic of the 2017 Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Speaker on Religion and Conflict. In the talk, Philip S. Gorski argues that our founding tradition was a synthesis of both sacred and secular sources. He traces the history of this civil religious tradition from Puritan times through to the present day and reflects on how it might help heal our political divisions.
Gorski is a comparative-historical sociologist at Yale University with strong interests in theory and methods and in modern and early modern Europe. His empirical work focuses on topics such as state-formation, nationalism, revolution, economic development and secularization with particular attention to the interaction of religion and politics. Other current interests include the philosophy and methodology of the social sciences and the nature and role of rationality in social life.
His recent book, "American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present," makes the case that the United States was founded on the vision of a "prophetic republic" that integrated both the ethical vision of the Hebrew prophets and the Western political heritage of civic republicanism. Gorski goes on to show how the founders’ original vision for America is threatened by an internecine struggle between two rival traditions: religious nationalism and radical secularism. Gorski's book, noted to be "essential reading for this moment" by the New York Times, offers an unsparing critique of both traditions, demonstrating how half a century of culture war has drowned out the quieter voices of the vital center.
Gorski is co-director of Yale’s Center for Comparative Research and co-runs the Religion and Politics Colloquium at the Yale MacMillan Center.