The Civil religion reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Civil religion

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The neutrality of this article is disputed.

A separate article titled civic religion is about a very extreme form of what is here called "civil religion."

The intended meaning of the term civil religion perhaps varies according to whether one is a sociologist of religion or a professional political commentator.

Table of contents
1 Sociology of religion
2 Practical political philosophy
3 The two concepts are related
4 History
5 Issues
6 See also

Sociology of religion

In the sociology of religion, civil religion is the folk religion of a nation or a political culture.

It stands somewhat above folk religion in its social and political status, since by definition it suffuses an entire society, or at least a segment of a society; and is often practised by leaders within that society. On the other hand, it is somewhat less than an establishment of religion, since established churches have official clergy and a relatively fixed and formal relationship with the government that establishes them. Civil religion is usually practiced by political leaders who are laymen and whose leadership is not specifically spiritual.


Such civil religion encompasses such things as:

and similar religious or quasi-religious practices.

Practical political philosophy

Professional commentators on political and social matters writing in newspapers and magazines sometimes use the term civil religion or civic religion to refer to ritual expressions of patriotism of a sort practiced in all countries, not always including religion in the conventional sense of the word. (The term civic religion is also used in a different way in the Wikipedia article with that title, which see.) Among such practices are the following:


The two concepts are related

These two conceptions of civil religion substantially overlap. In France, such secular ceremonies are separated from religious observances to a greater degree than in most countries. In Britain, where church and state are constitutionally joined, the monarch's coronation includes religious rites celebrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the United States of America, a president being inaugurated is told by the Constitution to choose between saying "I do solemnly swear..." (customarily followed by "so help me God", although those words are not Constitutionally required) and saying "I do solemnly affirm..." (in which latter case no mention of God would be expected). In extreme cases such as North Korea, such expressions may take the form of veneration of a Great Leader that is required to exclude all other forms of religious expression, and dogmatic adherence to the philosophies of Great Leader, around whom a cult of personality is maintained. See civic religion.


The first government to have an identifiable civil religion was the Roman Empire, whose first Emperor Augustus officially attempted to revive the dutiful practice of Classical paganism. Greek and Roman religion were essentially local in character; the Roman Empire attempted to unite its disparate territories by inculcating an ideal of Roman piety, and by a syncretistic identifying the gods of conquered territories with the Greek and Roman pantheon. In this campaign, Augustus erected monuments such as the Ara Pacis, the Altar of Peace, showing the Emperor and his family worshipping the gods. He also encouraged the publication of works such as Vergil's Æneid, which depicted "pious Æneas", the legendary ancestor of Rome, as a role model for Roman religiosity. Roman historians such as Livy told tales of early Romans as morally improving stories of military prowess and civic virtue. The Roman civil religion later became centred on the person of the Emperor through the imperial cult, the worship of the genius of the Emperor.


Within the contexts of the monotheistic, prophetic, revealed faiths, civil religion can to be problematic from a theological perspective. Being identified with a political culture and a leadership hierarchy of an existing society, civil religion can interere with the prophetic mission of a religious faith. It is hard to make civil religion a platform for rebuking the sins of a people or its institutions, because civil religion exists to make them seem sacred in themselves.

The United States of America, while a group of British colonies, was settled in part by religious dissenters from the established Church of England, and who desired a civil society founded on a different religious vision. This, and the fact that there has not been a state church in the United States, and religious denominations compete with one another for allegiance in the public square, has made public displays of religious piety important to a large sector of the population. This assertive civil religion of the United States of America is an occasional cause of political friction between the United States and its allies in Europe, where (the literally religious form of) civil religion is often relatively muted. In the United States, civil religion is often invoked under the name of Judeo-Christian tradition, a phrase once intended at the time to be maximally inclusive of the several monotheisms practiced in the United States, assuming that these faiths all worship the same God and share the same values. This assumption tends to dilute the essence of both Judaism and Christianity; recognition of this fact, and the increasing religious diversity of the United States, make this phrase less heard now than it once was, though it is far from extinct.

See also

ecclesia; sociology of religion; Deep England; Civic religion; State religion