In contrast, Bellah’s civil religion melded Protestantism and nation, creating an American civil religion that could effectively Protestantize Catholics, Jews, and others.
Thus Bellah’s civil religion co-existed with and, more importantly, contained Herberg’s “Protestant-Catholic-Jew” triad and obscured the American Way of Life.
Without all three of these elements, it would be impossible to distinguish German Lutherans from German Catholics or Polish Catholics from Polish Jews.
Similarly all three characteristics were necessary to group together Northern and Southern Italians or the mass of Eastern European Jews as single ethnic groups (, pp. Herberg argued that religion provided the mechanism through which ethnic groups could both Americanize and retain in-group ties.
Hence while each constructed a vision of civil religion derived from Durkheimian definitions of religion, Herberg emphasized morality while Bellah highlighted community.
In addition, Herberg’s argument for a “Protestant-Catholic-Jewish” America depended on his subtle framing of Jews as modal, rather than minority, Americans.In an increasingly diverse and divisive America, Bellah’s civil religion provided a more optimistic template for national self-critique, even as Herberg’s American Way of Life more accurately described the limits of national self-understanding and American pluralism.as a foundational text asserting a liberal American pluralism that makes space for a multitude of religions, Herberg argued for something quite different, what historian Healan Gaston recently deemed “a more exclusive edge to Herberg’s thought” (, p. As Edward Shapiro has written, a close reading of reveals Herberg’s more subtle claim: “instead of Jews conforming to Christian America, Christians were conforming to the pattern of ethnic and religious identity exhibited particularly by Jews” (, p. In so doing, Herberg presented an argument for a very particular, rather than capacious, and ideal, rather than real, view of American religion.6 Indeed, The co-existence of religious behavior and secular worldviews animated Herberg’s study.Psychologically, he posited, religion emerges from “inner necessity”, offers a sense of peace and security, and protects individual authenticity.Asserting that “religion, like the family, is one of the enduring, elemental institutions of mankind”, Herberg framed religion as a historical entity.But as Raymond Haberski has recently argued, “the era since 1945 has witnessed a merging of American promise and power to forge a potent civil religion” (, p. In mid-twentieth-century America, Will Herberg and Robert Bellah represented the foremost thinkers and sociologists of religion in American life.Placing Herberg more directly in conversation with Bellah illuminates why Herberg’s depiction of the United States as a religious triptych endured while his argument for an “American Way of Life” flailed.This “way of life” represented a creedal system that unified the American people around important tenets—democratic idealism, pragmatic individualism, idealistic moralism—and events celebrated by Americans.It existed alongside and in a reciprocal relationship with Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism (, p. The American Way of Life represented what some called “civic religion” and what sociologist Robert Bellah would label “the American Civil Religion” in an essay published 12 years later.4 In his 1967 essay “Civil Religion in America”, he wrote, “While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of ‘the American Way of Life’, few have realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America” (, p. Bellah’s essay instigated decades of scholarship on the historical, sociological, and theological dimensions of civil religion in the United States .Both men used civil religion to critique American complacency, but Herberg agonized over trite formulations of faith while Bellah derided uncritical affirmations of patriotism.Bellah’s civil religion co-existed with and, more importantly, contained Herberg’s “Protestant-Catholic-Jew” triad and obscured the American Way of Life.