American Heresies: Civil Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1776

Walter A. McDougall, University of Pennsylvania

  • Date Feb 15, 2017
  • Venue Warner Memorial Library
    Eastern University
    1300 Eagle Road
    Saint Davids, PA 19087
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Walter A. McDougall argues powerfully that a pervasive but radically changing faith that “God is on our side” has inspired U.S. foreign policy ever since 1776. The first comprehensive study of the role played by civil religion in U.S. foreign relations over the entire course of the country’s history, McDougall’s book explores the deeply infused religious rhetoric that has sustained and driven an otherwise secular republic through peace, war, and global interventions for more than two hundred years.
From the Founding Fathers’ “holy war” for independence to the Monroe Doctrine and continental expansion the American civil religion inspired a coherent, enormously successful grand strategy. But the Progressive movement turned civil religion on its head in order to justify imperialism, intervention in two world wars, Cold War mobilization against “godless Communism,” and the post-Cold War bid for global hegemony styled as a New World Order. In sum, this coruscating polemic reveals the unacknowledged but freely exercised dogmas of civil religion that have bound together a diverse commercial republic, but also seduced its elites to pursue an ever more elusive global destiny. 


Walter A. McDougall is Alloy-Ansin Professor of International Relations and History and the University of Pennsylvania.  His many honors include the Pulitzer Prize for history. McDougall graduated from New Trier (Illinois) High School (1964) and Amherst College (1968). After military service in Vietnam, McDougall received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1974). He taught at the University of California, Berkeley, before coming to Penn in 1988. 
McDougall is also a Senior Fellow at Philadelphia’s Foreign Policy Research Institute where he edited its journal Orbis and now co-directs its History Academy. An unabashed generalist, his books range from France's Rhineland Diplomacy 1914-1924 (1978), and ...the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (1985), to Let the Sea Make a Noise: A History of the North Pacific (1992), Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776 (1997), Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History 1585-1828 (2004), and Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877 (2008), which was selected by the Athenæum of Philadelphia as best book of the year. 
A devotee of books, sports, and all kinds of music from Bach to Bob Dylan, McDougall lives with his wife and two children in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.