Joseph Margulies: Invoking God in America

tags: religion, legal history, LA Times, sociology, Robert Bellah, Joseph Margulies



Joseph Margulies is a professor at Northwestern University Law School and the author of "What Changed When Everything Changed: 9/11 and the Making of National Identity."

In one recent week, time took two heroes. So far as I know, the legendary civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers and the esteemed public intellectual Robert Bellah never met. They lived on opposite ends of the country and traveled in different circles. But they were connected in an important, symbolic way, and their passing within a few days of each other provides the occasion to reflect on their common lesson for modern American life.

Bellah was a sociologist at UC Berkeley. Though he began his professional career as an authority on Japan and the Far East, he made his most enduring contributions tracing the complex relationship between religion and civic life in the United States, and first came to the attention of the wider public for his 1967 article "Civil Religion in America."

In "Civil Religion," Bellah noted the ubiquitous role of religion in national life. But Bellah did not mean a particular organized religion. Writing a few years after the assassination of President Kennedy, he pointed out that the Roman Catholic Kennedy invoked much the same religious imagery to describe America's "mission" as the Protestant founders two centuries earlier....



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