Federal Reserve on Civil Religion

July 28, 2004

I have been wrestling with the chapter on civil religion over the last few weeks, most recently on a section discussiong what happened when civil religion met the Jacksonian party system.

I was thus amused to see that the St. Louis Federal Reserve has a short article on civil religion and prosperity. They focus their analysis on fear of hell, on eternal punishments and not on eternal rewards, but that does seem to be a reasonable proxy for their test. They find a high correlation between low corruption and high prosperity, a moderate correlation (correlation coefficient .34) between fear of hell and low corruption.

One of the problems that Americans wrestled with during the early nineteenth century was how to balance individual religious freedom - something that everyone praised - with the social consequences of religious belief. Antebellum Americans, as Tocqueville pointed out, felt more comfortable when surrounded by people who feared that their actions on this world would be judged after death.

The section I am having trouble framing discusses the interaction between political parties, civil religion, and politicized religion, something that appears in national politics today in a way unlike the abstract correlations of the Federal Reserve article or, for that matter, of Tocqueville's analysis. The problem comes in the details - the point of my dissertation. Everyone agreed that a more religious society would be a better society; they differed on how best to achieve that religious society. More, one person's attempt to build a common Christianity that all could agree on was another's sectarian imposition.

So, how do I want to tie the Anti-masonic movement of the 1820s, Clay and Jackson in the 1830s, Frelinghuysen and Catholics in the 1840s, and frame it all in a few powerful pages?

And back to work.

Posted by Red Ted at July 28, 2004 04:12 PM | TrackBack