The Next Religious Establishment: National Identity and Political Theology in Post-Protestant America. Eldon J. Eisenach (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, May, 2000)
America is having an identity crisis: issues of multiculturalism, church-state relations and immigration, struggles over the writing and meaning of national history, and philosophical argument between liberals and communitarians, engage academics and public intellectuals in fierce contests over America�s character and destiny. These current struggles are not unprecedented: American history is marked by the rise and fall of distinct national political orders and the transitions between them have been marked by cultural struggles over national identity. Each national political order was also a national cultural order and the primary expression of those regimes in the past was informal or voluntary religious establishment. Every decisive national politico-cultural struggle was also a politico-religious one. Put negatively, the U.S. Constitution never was and never will be the primary source of national identity or of national political authority.
The main argument of the book is simple: America has never been governed for long without a coherent national identity and a voluntary religious establishment. Here a more complex argument is introduced: each religious establishment has been underwritten by an authoritative national political theology that mediates and integrates personal, ethnic, religious, and civic identities. This subject of this theology is the nation and its most prominent theologians tend to be found not in churches but in national universities. The distinctive and most controversial argument of the book is that out of today�s national and personal identity struggles the foundations and outlines of a new American identity are being formed. The moral and spiritual contours of this new national identity are emerging out of the intellectual and cultural struggles in the American universities that began with the last disestablishment in the late 1960s. The irony is that the shapers of this next common faith � its leading public theologians � bear a striking resemblance to those who shaped the mis-named �Protestant� and �Christian� and �Judeo-Christian� establishments in the past.
Three bodies of scholarship underwrite this analysis: the institutionally-oriented political history of regime periodization; the new religious history centered on American culture rather than on American denominations and churches; and the rebirth of pragmatism as both critique and philosophical reconstruction of democratic political theory.