In God We Trust: How Much Religion Can (not should) Exist in Government?

Since the framing of the Constitution, American politicians have struggled to find consensus on the proper place for religion in pluralistic democracy. Still, from Washington to Obama, each of the United States’ 43 presidents (counting Grover Cleveland only once) has avowed a religious affiliation. Among these men, few have openly expressed their spirituality more than George W. Bush. From the beginning of his campaign, Bush continually referenced his spirituality, and once in office, that open religiosity did not cease to exist. Most memorably, in 2001, Bush created the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (now the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) via executive order. Still, despite his religious convictions, Bush took a more quiet approach concerning foreign policy—that is, he took care to hide any religious references, in an effort to avoid making the War on Terror appear as a religious war. Despite such differences in Bush’s foreign and domestic policy approaches, one constant remains: Bush featured religion in his decision-making in some form or fashion.

Historically, most scholarship on the question of religion in public life has featured a normative approach—how much religion should be in government. However, the descriptive/positive/practical aspect of the religion-in-public-life question has received considerably less attention. For my paper, I will focus on that second approach: how much religion can be in government. This approach may at first seem a bit vague: how could one answer this question? Well, rather than tackling that question at large, I have chosen to narrow/focus the original question: how much religion can exist in public life, given a certain level of presidential leadership. In other words, I hope to determine whether Bush’s approach to religion in public life worked, given his level of leadership on the subject. To do this, I will examine Bush’s leadership, using Fred I. Greenstein’s six qualities for presidential leadership.

I chose Bush’s presidency, because his beliefs on religion in government seemed easiest to pinpoint. In the paper, I plan on studying the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives as a sort of snapshot of Bush’s domestic approach and the War on Terror as an example of his foreign approach.  My hope is to compare the foreign and domestic policy aspects and offer commentary on the success or failure of the Bush approach.

The problem of religion in politics has always been of interest to me; however, while taking a class on John Rawls last spring semester, my interested for the subject greatly increased. Now that I have read and written about varying accounts on the role of religion in democracy, I thought it useful and interesting to study the implications of one particular approach. Though there will be plenty of information to sort through, I am hoping for an informative final product.

I look forward to discussing this subject with the Fellows and wish the best of luck to all of this year’s Fellows.


About jcross9

From a small town in Central PA (Reedsville), I have just begun my junior year at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY. I am a Political Science major with a double minor in Mathematics and Philosophy and am a member of the Hofstra University Honors College. My research topic for CSP is the role of religion during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies. Outside of school, I sing in two of our music department's choirs, the Chorale and the Chamber Singers, and enjoy directing the choir and playing piano at my local church. After graduating in 2013, I hope to attend graduate school and obtain my PhD in Political Science.
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2 Responses to In God We Trust: How Much Religion Can (not should) Exist in Government?

  1. elizab18 says:

    I think this is a really great topic. I’m also extremely interested in the relationship between religion and politics, and spent a summer interning with Interfaith Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to exploring this topic. They may have some good resources on the role of religion in presidential elections. Good luck with this paper!

  2. jcross9 says:

    Thanks for the suggestion–will definitely check it out!

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