Chapter 5 America Transcendent

In: The Spirit of Populism

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Abstract

In To Serve God and Wal-Mart historian Bethany Moreton describes the rise of the Wal-Mart model of Christian free enterprise. Most Americans do not see Wal-Mart as Christian or even as religious, but as non-sectarian. Like the United States, Wal-Mart rises above the particularity of religion. It transcends religion. Moreton’s argument resonates powerfully with broader questions in the study of American politics. This chapter explores political theologies of American exceptionalism through the lens of Moreton’s work in conversation with Winnifred Sullivan’s book on prison religion in the United States, Lisa Sideris’s writings on American techno-exceptionalism, and Gil Anidjar’s essay on rethinking what we study when we study Christianity/ies. While each of these authors offers important correctives, most Americans and America-watchers cling to outdated assumptions about the boundaries between the political, the religious and the economic, ignoring their fluid inter-relations and theological aspirations. Exploring these dynamics offers a window onto the ambivalent role of protestant Christianity in American exceptionalism, an ambivalence that affirms and naturalizes what legal theorist Jothie Rajah describes as “an affective conviction in the United States as transcendent.” These convictions, in turn, resonate in and through contemporary American populism.

The Spirit of Populism

Political Theologies in Polarized Times

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