Can the Soul of the Nation Be Saved?

A joint event of the ASU Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and The George Washington University Project on Ethics in Political Communication

Can the Soul of the Nation Be Saved?

Thursday, April 1, 2021  •  3:00pm AZ MST (PDT) / 6:00pm EDT  •  Online, via Zoom

President Biden campaigned on the theme of restoring the soul of America—an idea he repeated during his inaugural address. But what exactly does this mean? In many ways, Biden was evoking American “civil religion” —an idea that has received renewed attention and criticism. For some Americans, civil religion offers a means for achieving national unity and a shared sense of moral purpose. For others, civil religion raises questions about religious and political freedom, concerns about “Christian nationalism,” and fears about American exceptionalism and national hubris. With legitimate criticisms and competing visions of America playing out in academia, media, government, and in our streets and public squares, the nation is grappling with a central question of our day: Do Americans still have faith in democracy?

Join us for this moderated discussion among scholars, practitioners, and journalists. Together, we will explore principles, practices, and critiques associated with American civil religion, including prospects for its future in U.S. politics and government. At a time when democracy is under duress in the United States and around the world, sustaining citizens’ faith in democracy remains a vital challenge. Key questions include:

  • What is American civil religion? What sources does it draw from? And why should citizens care?
  • What role does civil religion play in the president’s call to restore the nation’s soul and heal its divisions?
  • In practical and strategic terms, how does civil religion figure into our political life, from campaigns and elections to governing and legislating?
  • How can we promote civil religion when loyalty to the U.S. has, in the past, been used to target certain minority communities? 
  • Can we imagine a civil religion that encompasses different faiths, traditions, histories, and visions for America?

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Panelists:
  • John Carlson is interim director of the Center for the Study of Religion & Conflict and associate professor of religious studies at Arizona State University where he also co-directs the Recovering Truth project. He is co-editor of From Jeremiad to Jihad: Religion, Violence, and America and is currently working on two book projects: a monograph on justice and a collection on religion and global citizenship. He has written extensively on civil religion, particularly as expressed through presidential speeches.
  • André Gonzales is a staff assistant in the United States Senate, a 2019 Truman Scholar and a current Truman-Albright Fellow with the Harry S. Truman Foundation. In 2016, Gonzales was elected as one of the youngest delegates to attend the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and since then, has regularly found himself at the intersection of politics, policy, advocacy, and media both in New Mexico and in the nation's capital. As a recent graduate of The George Washington University and recipient of the Manatt-Trachtenberg Prize for Social and Intellectual Conscience, André is focused on addressing educational equity throughout New Mexico by creating longstanding partnerships between local, state, federal, tribal, nonprofit, and private stakeholders.
  • Peter Loge is associate professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, where he leads the Project on Ethics in Political Communication. Before joining GW, Loge worked for over 25 years in communications and political strategy, including a presidential appointment at the Food and Drug Administration and senior positions with members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. He was vice president at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) from 2013-2015, where his portfolio included congressional relations, intergovernmental affairs, and the Global Peacebuilding Center. He regularly lectures on politics and lobbying and provides analysis and commentary for a variety of national media outlets.
  • Nichole R. Phillips (Ph.D., Vanderbilt University) is director of the Black Church Studies Program and associate professor in the practice of sociology of religion and culture at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University and a senior faculty fellow at the Emory Center for Ethics. Her research interests lie at the intersection of religion and American public life. With an emphasis on the moral commitments and vision of community and congregational members, her scholarship engages religion, critical race, gender, and cultural memory studies. Her most recent book is Patriotism  Black and White: The Color of American Exceptionalism (2018), and she is currently developing a new research project on the sociology of science and religion funded by Templeton Religion Trust. 

Moderator:

  • Rozina Ali is a fellow at Type Media Center. Her reporting and essays on the Middle East, the war on terror, and Islamophobia in the United States have appeared in The New YorkerForeign Affairs, The Nation, the GuardianNew York Times, Al Jazeera America, Foreign Policy, and others. She was on the editorial staff of The New Yorker from 2015 to 2019, and was previously a senior editor at the Cairo Review of Global Affairs based in Cairo, Egypt.

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Thursday, April 1, 2021 • 3:00pm MST / 6:00pm EDT
Online, via Zoom (Link provided with registration)