Returning civil religious rhetoric to American political participation

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2015-08

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Political participation in America has taken numerous forms over the years, from voting to volunteering. However, many people in the United States lack an overarching belief that full participation in a democracy is worthwhile. It is the goal of this thesis to examine the driving force behind political participation, or the lack thereof, in the United States. This examination of how the United States resembles organized religion in form and function, and how this resemblance entreats its citizens to act, reawakens the study of civil religion in America. Civil religion, as a theoretical lens, attempts to identify the particular values and beliefs of a nation through examining the rituals, symbols, and ceremonies practiced. Civil religion compares citizens to the followers of religion and equally observes how various religions influence particular cultural practices, both legal and civil. Given the limited use of pragmatism in the field of rhetorical studies, this project is among the first to use a pragmatic paradigm in rhetorical analysis. This project utilizes William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience as a framework to understand how civil religion can possibly be experienced in connection to voters and how they view the act of voting. This thesis concludes with the notion that understanding a person's civil religious beliefs is a crucial part of the process of the American political system. Understanding how people view and experience the act of participation, especially casting a ballot, in the United States is critical to the overall health of civil religion in America.

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