civil religion

(redirected from Civic religion)
Also found in: Wikipedia.

civil religion

a set of beliefs, rites and symbols which indicate and celebrate the citizen's relation to CIVIL SOCIETY, NATION and STATE and their historical provenance and destiny. The term originated with Rousseaus distinction between the ‘religion of man’, which is a private matter between the individual and God, and the ‘religion of the citizen’, which is a public matter of the individual's relation to society and government. Civil religions seek to bind all members to society, tell them their duties, even move them to fight and die for their country ifnecessary Rousseaus formulations influenced DURKHEIM, but the term only obtained its contemporary currency with Robert Bellahs (1967) work on the United States. Bellah describes America's self-understanding of a covenant with God which obliges her to carry out God's will on earth. He refers to statements from the founding fathers, the Declaration of Independence, presidential inaugural addresses from Washingtons to Kennedy's, the Gettysburg Address and other pronouncements; symbols and monuments (i.e. sacred places) such as the motto of the US (‘In God we trust’), the Lincoln Memorial and the Arlington National Cemetery; and celebrations and rituals such as Thanksgiving Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, saluting the flag and ceremonies in schools. Bellah acknowledges that American civil religion can degenerate into national self-idolatry and has subsequently written about the American broken covenant.

The myths, stories, images, icons, sites, figures, celebrations and rites of civil religions are religious in the Durkheimian sense; they are set apart from the mundanities of everyday life and are the object of awe, reverence or special respect. The collective representations in a civil religion are also genuinely civil, i.e. representative of society, rooted in ‘we the people’; politicians who control the apparatus of the state may exploit them, but they also ignore them at their peril. By contrast, the collective representations of a ‘political religion’ are superimposed on society by those who control the state with a view to putting the political order beyond question. The best known example is that of the Soviet Union. Christel Lane (1981) examines the sacralization of the October Revolution, the Great Patriotic War and the heroic achievement of labour; the accompanying symbols and rites, such as October parades, visits to the Lenin Mausoleum, and the placing of photographs of Lenin in every public office; and the numerous calendric rites and rites of passage. Anyone doubting that this was a political, and not a civil, religion has only to note how little of it survives in Russia today An explicitly functionalist account of ‘civil religion’ in the UK was provided by Young and Shils (1953) at the time of the coronation and a famous English cricket victory.