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A Singing Citizenry: Popular Music and Civil Religion in America

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Abstract:

American popular music, politics, and religion have all, in some combination, inspired thorough research. However, there has been little investigative effort regarding the important co-relationships among the three areas. One convenient site for such study is located in the idea of civil religion, where faith and patriotism converge—as Robert Bellah wrote in 1967—in a cultural network of “beliefs, symbols, and rituals.” This essay offers a contextual examination of two popular patriotic songs in relation to the dynamic state of civil religion from World War II to the Iraq War, from Tin Pan Alley to American Idol. Behind the endurance of songs like “God Bless America” and “God Bless the U.S.A.” lies a relentless need to define Americanness in civil-religious terms. And as the nation, and the nation-state, are reshaped in the currents of globalization, appreciation of these songs contributes to the crucial understanding of why America sings.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2006.00324.x

Publication date: December 1, 2006

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