From Reagan's regular invocation of America as "a city on a
hill" to Obama's use of spiritual language in describing social
policy, religious rhetoric is a regular part of how candidates
communicate with voters. Although the Constitution explicitly
forbids a religious test as a qualification to public office, many
citizens base their decisions about candidates on their expressed
religious beliefs and values. In Religious Rhetoric and American
Politics, Christopher B. Chapp shows that Americans often make
political choices because they identify with a "civil religion,"
not because they think of themselves as cultural warriors. Chapp
examines the role of religious political rhetoric in American
elections by analyzing both how political elites use religious
language and how voters respond to different expressions of
religion in the public sphere.
Chapp analyzes the content and context of political speeches and
draws on survey data, historical evidence, and controlled
experiments to evaluate how citizens respond to religious stumping.
Effective religious rhetoric, he finds, is characterized by two
factors-emotive cues and invocations of collective identity-and
these factors regularly shape the outcomes of American presidential
elections and the dynamics of political representation. While we
tend to think that certain issues (e.g., abortion) are invoked to
appeal to specific religious constituencies who vote solely on such
issues, Chapp shows that religious rhetoric is often more
encompassing and less issue-specific. He concludes that voter
identification with an American civic religion remains a driving
force in American elections, despite its potentially divisive
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