Project Title: Apocalypse and Islamophobia: A New Era in American Civil Religion
Student: Dominic Mejia ’17
Mentor: Dr. Susan Gunasti
American Civil Religion is a concept that was articulated by Robert Bellah in 1970. The God of this religion is what is referred to in American rituals, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, and this God is celebrated in our sacred holidays, such as the Fourth of July. “In God We Trust” and “God Bless America” are examples of this religion which is based in Judeo-Christian tradition but is not Christianity. When Bellah first put forth the concept of American Civil Religion, he identified three main eras of civil religion in the United States: the Abrahamic period of the Revolutionary era, the Lincolnian New Testament period, and the Third Time of Trial, each characterized by particular language and understandings of America’s role within history.
Recently, however, the lines between American Civil Religion and Christianity have become blurred. Increasing use of apocalyptic language by thought leaders and the populace have created a sense of urgency and the impression that the end is nigh. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, apocalypse necessitates an enemy. By analyzing the State of the Union Addresses of Barack Obama and George W. Bush, I trace the construction of this kind of apocalyptic language and how the careless and irresponsible use of this language has lead to generalized Islamophobia. This kind of apocalyptic language, by public and private individuals, has drastically shaped the political landscape of the U.S. A driving force behind this is that, for the first time, American Civil Religion has constructed for itself a devil, an abstract enemy that stands diametrically opposed to the ideals of the American Civil Religion. This enemy is found in extremist Islam, serving as the counterpart in the cosmic apocalyptic battle between the state God of the American empire and this new Satan.