The Damned Neighbors Problem: Rousseau’s Civil Religion Revisited

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  • Included in: Religions
  • Published: April 15, 2019
  • Publisher: MDPI

Near the conclusion of The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau starkly proclaims that no state has been founded without a religious basis, and thus if he is right, every political community must grapple with the tension between the conflicting claims of the divine and the mundane. Because Christianity cannot solve this tension, Rousseau calls for a new religion, a civil religion. Whereas most of the academic treatment of civil religion follows various paths beginning with Robert Bellah’s original 1967 article, this essay explores more deeply the contours of Rousseau’s original articulation of the problem to which civil religion is his proposed solution. The essay concludes by suggesting that we can find important elements of Rousseau’s approach still alive and well in American politics and culture today.



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