Religious Rhetoric and American Politics

Religious Rhetoric and American Politics: The Endurance of Civil Religion in Electoral Campaigns

Christopher B. Chapp
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.cttq43fr
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Religious Rhetoric and American Politics
    Book Description:

    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 undercurrents.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6568-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  5. 1 A THEORY OF RELIGIOUS RHETORIC IN AMERICAN CAMPAIGNS
    (pp. 1-16)

    During the 2004 presidential election, voters chose between candidates advocating starkly different approaches to a myriad of issues of national consequence. The United States was entangled in two costly wars and was still feeling the effects of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Domestically, President George W. Bush and the Congress had just passed major prescription drug reform, enacted controversial tax cuts, and legislated dramatic changes to American education. Yet in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, many political observers roundly concluded that Bush’s reelection was not due to any of these factors but was largely the product of...

  6. 2 RELIGIOUS RHETORIC IN AMERICAN POLITICAL HISTORY
    (pp. 17-38)

    Religious political rhetoric can overwhelm citizens with an array of different emotions, leading individuals to identify with a broad and varied range of groups and interests. We know very little, however, about exactly which group identities and emotions religious rhetoric is bringing to the surface. Although it seems likely that many voters will have some sort of emotional response to a passage such as the Reagan statement quoted here, it is unclear precisely what kind of affective punch this statement will have on a religiously diverse public. Moreover, it is unclear exactly which religious identity Reagan is calling forth as...

  7. 3 RELIGIOUS RHETORIC AND THE POLITICS OF IDENTITY
    (pp. 39-60)

    Speaking at an American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, Bob Dole (R-Kans.) is characterizing drugs, crime, and child abandonment not just as public policy problems but as threats to the moral fiber of America—the “character” of the country. These challenges can be bested only by yoking together the time-tested values of God and country. Real answers to the most pressing problems of America must come through a reification of an American spiritualized identity. Dole also indicates that an outgroup is “ridiculing” this fundamental understanding. Although this group is not explicitly identified, there is a clear contrast between a...

  8. 4 RELIGIOUS RHETORIC AND THE POLITICS OF EMOTIVE APPEALS
    (pp. 61-80)

    From Puritan jeremiads to the Bryan’s populist invocations, one defining feature of religious rhetoric is its strong emotive language. But we know very little about how its use varies to suit different political demands and what the consequences of emotive religious rhetoric are on the nature of American political culture. For example, many have expressed concern that the rhetoric of a religious culture war is polluting American political discourse (Hunter 1991; Evans and Nunn 2005). To the extent that religious rhetoric is infused with the language of anger, anxiety, and hostility, it provides the possibility for a contagion effect on...

  9. 5 THE CONSEQUENCES OF RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE ON PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE EVALUATIONS
    (pp. 81-103)

    In this passage, President Obama is invoking a by now familiar genre. Even in the midst of great uncertainty, America has a divinely inspired place in the world order. But when a president speaks, do Americans listen? Does invoking this creed have a special resonance with the American mass public—a strong enough pull to influence the manner in which Americans evaluate candidates and elected officials? Addressing this question not only helps us understand the place of religious rhetoric in American politics but also how campaigns influence political behavior more generally.

    Political scientists have debated the extent of the influence...

  10. 6 CIVIL RELIGION IDENTITY AND THE TASK OF POLITICAL REPRESENTATION
    (pp. 104-130)

    Hanna Pitkin defines to represent as to “make present again.” In American politics, elected representatives go about the task of making their constituencies present again in varied and complex ways. A representative might, for example, deliver what Pitkin calls “substantive representation,” advocating on behalf of policies that his or her constituency desires. A representative might also deliver “descriptive representation” by, essentially, looking like his or her own constituency. Or representation can be symbolic, centered on a common identification between rulers and the ruled—what Pitkin calls an “alignment of wills” (1967, 108).

    When analyzing the relationship between an elected leader...

  11. 7 THE RHETORICAL CONSTRUCTION OF RELIGIOUS CONSTITUENCIES
    (pp. 131-138)

    Religious rhetoric is a defining feature of the American political campaign. Although the contours of the genre have changed over time, it contains two enduring elements that make it well suited to be a highly persuasive tool given the unique American religious landscape. Specifically, the genre is defined by the rhetorical expression of politically salient collective identities and the use of highly emotive rhetorical cues. By rhetorically leveraging emotions and identity, political elites have thus used—and will continue to use—this genre to their electoral advantage. The evidence is clear that, for vast segments of the American public, religious...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 139-154)
  13. REFERENCES
    (pp. 155-168)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 169-174)