Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
This project explores the importance of historically specific theological discourses in United States presidential rhetoric. To do this I call in question the common assumption that God-language is simply used by presidents out of strategic advantage, or personal belief, rather than as a defining, and necessary, feature of American identity. Contrary to this approach, I describe how theologies have historically been a necessary part of presidential rhetoric as presidents use theologies to endow national action with divine significance. I do this in cases of presidential rhetoric from Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy, and Barack Obama that define the foreign policy mission of America with specific liberal Christian theological discourses. As presidents take up theological discourses to construct American morality the church/state distinction is threatened as one theological discourse is at risk of becoming the official state theology. Preventing this from happening, however, is the relative theological diversity of the American denominational system. Those who hold other theological orientations react negatively when their theology is not used to define national morality. In the cases I describe, presidents may use God-language strategically to garner support for their political actions, but when they do so the American public tends to read that God-language as having a theological dimension. Secular commentators that look for how presidents strategically use God-language to appeal to voters do not recognize that words-about-God are involved in theological networks of meaning-making that compete to define national morality. And where secular commentators fail to see this theological dimension, the religious American public does. This project attempts to bring the religious public's sensitivity to God-language into the academic study of presidential rhetoric by reading political discourse for its theological dimension.
civil religion, presidential rhetoric, theology
Copyright 2011 Jason Ray Moyer