"One Nation Under God"?
American Religious Identity in a Time of Conflict
A Conference of Scholars, Clergy, and Civic Leaders
October 24-25, 2002
Sponsored by Res Publica
A federal court ruling that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the public schools is unconstitutional because the phrase “one nation under God” constitutes government endorsement of religion has ignited a firestorm of controversy over the religious character of the American republic, and Americans’ sense of religious identity. The controversy has become even more acute in the aftermath of 9/11 and the prosecution of the war on terrorism.
The words “under God” were inserted by Congress into the Pledge in 1954 to affirm a sense of national solidarity in the face of the Soviet challenge. It expressed the attitude, prevalent during the Eisenhower era, that the United States was historically united not just by political institutions and practices, but by certain spiritual commitments the Americans held in common, even if they were only vaguely perceived.
The social turmoil and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, however, seriously called into serious question the idea of a common culture of any sort. In the ensuing decades, America became, in popular opinion, not a “melting pot”, as it was once termed, but a complex chowder of countless cultures and diverse religious expressions. The notion of “one nation under God” seemed quaint and outdated, if not repressive.
In the week of the terrorist attacks of September 2001, however, those sentiments changed significantly. Vehicles and billboards flaunted American flags, along with the inscriptions “In God we trust” and “united we stand.” In light of these events, many people now wonder whether the post-Sixties model of an expansive religious pluralism is compatible with the idea of the American republic. At the same time, the growing conflict in the Middle East has thrown into relief the question of whether the pluralistic ideal is crumbling in the face of what the distinguished Harvard social theorist Samuel Huntington has termed an irreconcilable “clash of civilizations”.
With these developments in mind, a series of conferences and public forums are planned during 2002 and 2003, focusing on the meaning of the phrase “one nation under God.” These events will address three essential questions:
What do Americans mean by the word “God”, which a distinct majority believes the nation stands “under?”
To what degree has the new awareness of the diversity of world religions found in America confirmed, or undermined the sense of a common faith suggested in the phrase “one nation under God” and in the very idea of an American “republic” in the classic sense? If a common religious heritage still survives in America, how can it be identified and articulated?
Do ongoing controversies around the nation concerning the public posting, or public removal, of the Ten Commandments underscore countrywide concern about the loss of a common religious heritage?
Schedule of Conferences
A series of regional conferences involving scholars, clergy, and civic leaders will address these issues during 2002 and 2003. The first will be held October 24-25, 2002 in Aspen, Colorado. Subsequent conferences are planned for the Northeast and in the South, or Southwest.
Conferences will involve the public as well as scholars, clergy, and community leaders who will participate in panels and roundtables as well as home salons.
Speakers for the Aspen conference include Dr. Randall Balmer of Columbia University in New York, a distinguished expert on American religion and civil liberties as well as Dr. Aziz Sachedina of the University of Virginia, who has written a well-known book on Islam and democratic pluralism.
Invitation to Participants
Res Publica invites the submission of proposals for papers, panels, roundtables, or special colloquia. Individuals who do not want to make formal proposals, but wish to participate in roundtables or colloquia, are also encouraged to submit their names and resumes. If they wish merely to attend the conference, they are invited to submit their names and email as well as postal addresses.
Proposals and resumes must be submitted in both electronic format and in hard copy by August 15, 2002.
Electronic versions must be in plain text and/or MS-Word format, or a program that is readable by MS-Word 2000 (Sorry, no MAC files). Electronic files should be submitted both on a 31/2 “ floppy disk AND as an attachment mailed to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hard copy should be mailed to the postal address below.
Proposals should be 200-800 words in length and contain the following information (If more than one person is making the proposal, please give names and following information for all those concerned):
Full name, title, and professional affiliation.
Title of paper or proposal.
Postal address during the regular academic year (Sept.-May).
Postal address during the summer (if different) or during any other time period between now and the conference.
Work and home telephone numbers.
Indicate whether you or participants are currently members or fellows.
For general inquiries contact Carl Raschke, program co-ordinator, at email@example.com..
Res Publica is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation chartered in the state of Colorado.
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