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American civil religion and the puritan antecedents of American foreign policy

Sharma, Rahul (2018) American civil religion and the puritan antecedents of American foreign policy. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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It has been observed by IR scholars that religion and American foreign policy are intertwined. Notwithstanding the separation of church and state in the United States, American presidents have frequently referred to God in their rhetoric as they have explained America’s foreign policy to the American public. This has emphasised how Americans are a people with a special relationship with God that has defined the nation’s perception of the world and its sense of place within it. This thesis highlights how religious ideas in presidential rhetoric on American foreign policy predate the founding of the United States and are derived from America’s Puritan ancestors. I argue, Puritan ideas and assumptions have been continuously echoed in presidential rhetoric irrespective of a president’s religious denomination or degree of religiosity, political party affiliation or America’s domestic-international context. In order to explore their continued significance, the thesis draws on a constructivist-orientated framework that combines concepts of political culture and civil religion. By analysing the rhetoric employed by American presidents at key junctures in the country’s history, this thesis argues that Puritan religious ideas and assumptions have historically prevailed and underpinned American politics despite the United States being a nonconfessional state. Above all, I demonstrate that the religious underpinnings of American foreign policy have historical origins and therefore while specific foreign policy events are unique many of the ideas used in presidential rhetoric to describe and explain them originate from before the founding of the United States. My thesis makes an important contribution to the literature on religion and American foreign policy, combining historical insights with contemporary ones. This thesis could be of interest for scholars who focused on American exceptionalism in American foreign policy, American foreign policy traditions and American presidents in American foreign policy. It could also be of relevance to the International Relations literature, whether constructivist literature focusing on the importance of collectively shared ideas or historical-inclined scholarship which has adopted a long-term perspective on international relations.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Rahul Sharma
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Lankina, Tomila and Light, Margot and Kitchen, Nick

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