"And no one will keep that light from shining"

Menschenrechte "And no one will keep that light from shining". Civil Religion after September 11 in Speeches of George W. Bush
Nicole Janz
LIT-Verlag, Berlin-London, 2010.

The background of this book is the common perception that the former American President, George W. Bush, a born-again Christian, used overly religious language. This book shows through a detailed analysis of Bush’s speeches that this is a misinterpretation. His references to God and the idea that America must fulfil the work of God on earth were not signs of his personal evangelical belief system. Rather, they can be explained through American civil religion. This concept, introduced by sociologist Robert Bellah in 1967, explains the existence of a public religious dimension in the political sphere of the U.S. It is expressed through presidential speeches, which reflect a set of beliefs and myths about America that include references to God and divine symbols; but such references must be seen independently from religion.

The main findings are: (1) Bush used the rhetoric of civil religion exactly in the way Bellah has described the concept. Evangelical references, however, were extremely seldom. (2) In that, Bush followed his predecessors who have used similar rhetoric - independently from their own religions. (3) Bush used civil religion to console and unite the Americans after 9/11.

Reviews and Comments

“Janz's study is a marvel. It evidences that George W. Bush's use of religiously symbolic words simply upholds an American tradition going back 200 years to its first president George Washington. Scholars dryly call it American civil religion. But it is much more – it is an expression of American cultural optimism and a belief that there is a great big beautiful tomorrow, which the US can be part of, in fact lead. And what better way for Bush or any US president to express such feelings than by using the forward-looking and uplifting language of religion. As Janz brilliantly analyzed, the only difference is that the world noticed, and reacted, when Bush used such expressive traditional language. That is the real surprise.”
JENIK RADON, Columbia University

“This superb study provides an essential contribution to the understanding of the role of Civil Religion in American national identity. The fact that George W. Bush’s rhetoric does not show significant evangelical or Christian references is a surprising result that contradicts the dominant discourse in Europe about the former U.S. president.“
THOMAS RISSE, Freie Universität Berlin

"Janz has a carefully and clearly stated thesis and employs sound methodology. She builds meticulously on the work of others and explains the “why” of Bellah and not just the “what.” In so doing, Janz gives the reader a clear summary of civil religion’s basic prin- ciples, which is followed by a convincing argument for American civil religion as it relates specifically to George W. Bush’s post-9/ 11 rhetoric and the media’s misrepresentation of Bush as an overly religious president based upon his use of civil religion language. (...) [T]he work is a valuable contribution to the historiography of George W. Bush’s civil religion. Future scholars will be in Janz’s debt."
ROBERT D. LINDER, in: Journal of Church and State: 55 (1): 166-168. First published online: January 27, 2013. [pdf]

"Janz’s effort is likely to reinvigorate and expand discursive studies dedicated to understanding contemporary instantiations of American civil religion. That she has been able to refocus and reframe international attention on such an important and unique American phenomenon is all the better."
STEVEN R. GOLDZWIG, in: Rhetoric & Public Affairs: Summer 2012 (Vol 15, Issue 2, pg. 369-372). [pdf]

"Good social science is often about the critical assessment of widely-held assumptions, subjecting the them to systematic inquiry. (...) In her significant study 'And no one will keep that light from shining', Nicole Janz challenges the conventional wisdom that George W. Bush's use of religious references in presidential discourse was out of the ordinary."
JOHANNES THIMM, in: Security and Peace 2/2011: 130-131. [pdf]

"Janz performs a great service by drawing greater attention to the notion of American civil religion."
JILLINDA WEAVER, in: Cambridge Review of International Affairs 3/2011: 703-705. [pdf]

"Janz demonstrates how Bush’s language on God, mission, freedom, sacrifice and rebirth in the aftermath of 11 September mirrored past president’s usages of American civil religion, and she illustrates how Bush tapped into these same ideas to make his case for the war on terror."
CHRISTINA LITTLEFIELD, in: Review of Religious Research 2011 (53:1) p.249–256. [pdf]

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