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Istituto per i Beni Culturali Emilia-Romagna

Memoria e Ricerca

Religion, politics and secularism in the United States: a historical perspective

di Massimo Rubboli
in Memoria e Ricerca n.s. 43 (2013), p. 109

In the United States, the idea that modernity brings about secularism and that is in the long term incompatible with religion has been proved wrong. In fact, the development of modernity has not led to a progressive dismissal of religion and secularization coexists with traditional forms of religion. The principle of religious liberty – guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution – is a dynamic principle that has requested a continual adjustment to new social, political, and economic conditions. “Wall of separation,” the metaphor used by Thomas Jefferson to designate the separation between church and state, has been misleading because nowhere in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights “Church”, “separation”, or “wall” are mentioned. The relationship between church and state in the United States must be considered on the background of the religious pluralism that has characterized the society since the colonial times, and it is better described as a “line” dividing two different spheres without excluding an exchange or a relation. Throughout American history, religion has played an important public role in relation to three issues: war and peace, economic structures, and racial justice. It should also be noted that there is a religious dimension of American society. This so-called “civil religion” is the result of a gradual merging between old and new myths and symbols. Keywords: United States, religion, politics, secularism, religious liberty, civil religion