ENGL 350: Religion

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History of the word The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers some archaic definitions from the 13th century for religion, which are interesting to examine if one is to trace the word to a present day usage. The Latin root of the word, religio, means a "supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice", and the dictionary suggests that this may stem from the verb "religare", which means to constrain. In this original meaning of the term, the word religion has a more constricting connotation than it does in present time.

Popular/Broad Definitions

Religion as a human institution that attempts to create order and assign meanings to natural phenomenon that humans struggle to explain.

Examples of this usage

The idea of public worship, the idea of a certain creed that a person can claim to hold as the principles which guide his or her life.

Religion has taken on many different roles throughout history, and oftentimes it has resulted in hardship, and persecution, or even death in many cases. Whatever the dominant religion has been at any time in previous history, all other religions were often considered inferior & the people that remained faithful to the secondary institutions were considered inferior or even heathen or pagan by association. The fact that people refused to convert to Christianity, which was the dominant religion held in colonial days, was used to justify the unethical treatment of Africans and Native Americans when taking their land, or their freedom, from them. The Crusades were wars waged in the name of religion, or more specifically, in the name of Christianity, which were most often intrinsically tied to latent political agendas held by the pope.

'Religion' as a deeply personal connection with a higher being that can be shaped and molded to an individual.

Predominant Usages in Course Texts



In this context, I would point to Franklin's ability to allow himself his own type of religion. Pg. 81: "I had some Years before compos'd a Liturgy of Form of Prayer for my own Private Use..." As Franklin exemplifies here and throughout his narrative, religion may not always have direct relation to theocratic notions, but may also serve as an underlying foundation or motivation that guides personal principle, particularly in regard to what he refers to as “virtue,” while altogether refraining from varying beliefs that most commonly characterize a given ‘faith,” or ‘Sect’. In criticizing the dogmatic temperament of some preachers, Franklin observes that “their aim [seems] to be to make us Presbyterian [or any particular sect] rather than good citizens,” (81). Franklin asserts his own interpretation of virtue and morality, and thusly, he shies from the politics of sermon-religion and looks inward for the source his own route to virtue, wherein he then asserts “the most acceptable Service of God is doing good to man,” and his actions throughout the novel thus demonstrate the extent to which he associates his introspective, personal “virtue” with his own championing of civic responsibility and service (95).

While the Indian Hobomok formally adheres to the religion of his native tribe, he nevertheless displays numerous examples of what might be considered "Christian" values - perhaps even moreso than the alleged Christians that surrounded him. Child writes that “There was within [Hobomok] a voice loud and distinct, which spoke to him of another world where he should think, feel, love, even as he did now. He had never read of God, but he had heard his chariot wheels in the distant thunder, and seen his drapery in the clouds” (45). The fact that Hobomok is said to possess the capacity to think and act on a spiritual level independent of a formal institution suggests his "religious" connection to be a deeply personal one, rather than one tied to any particular, defined sect.

'Religion' can be used as an ideological tool of political and social manipulation, education, and propaganda.

Examples of this usage


In Franklin's case, he recognizes that partisan ideals in his 'Academy' would hurt the quality of the education he means to establish. He is careful in his Nomination of Trustees, ensuring that various sects do not receive a dominant power in the Academy and try to impart their own creeds on the students. Franklin p. 119: "...that a Predominancy should not be given to any Sect, lest in time that Predominance might be a means of appropriating the whole to the Use of such Sect, contrary to the original Intention. Franklin notes how the Religions of the country "serv'd principally to divide us & make us unfriendly to one another" (p. 80). In today's terminology, unfriendly may be an understatement, as people throughout the world commit terrorist acts in the name of religion.


In discussing the charters of many of the colonies, Jefferson expresses the more socio-nationalist and political influence of religion. He notes that Queen Elizabeth "licensed Sir Walter Raleigh to search for remote heathen lands, not inhabited by Christian people" to extend the British empire through the pretense of a grand, mostly religious mission (Jefferson 116). Whereas the spread of Christendom may likely have been an attractive argument for colonization within England, history demonstrates that Elizabeth's finding of the joint-stock companies were actually motivated almost exclusively by economic and national interests. Yet, the ascription of implied virtue served to grant an elevated legitimacy to colonization as a political operation. An example to support this use of the word comes from Jakobsen's paper on religion, in which she states that "'[R]eligion' continues to mobilize a broad range of politics along the lines of race, nation, gender, and sexuality." In the modern public, it is evident that religion is used as a form of identification in which a person, race, or nation is directly correlated to a particular religion. An example Janet R. Jakobsen provides is the common presumption that "Arab must be Muslim and Muslims must be Arab." One major reason why societies have waged war against one another has been because of religious differences.


In support of the above popular use of the world religion, David Walker's Appeal is entirely built on using religion, specifically the Christian religion, to ignite popular sentiment for his arguments about why the slaves were kept in wretchedness for so long. The religious language that is used to not only prove his points but also persuade his brethren to not settle for being treated as inhuman brutes. Walker's counter narrative to the works of Jefferson and Franklin is a lens through which one can see how Christianity was used as a tool of social manipulation and enslavement. Walker is trying to use a religious and sentimental appeal to reverse this process.

Walker speaks of "pure and undefiled religion, such as was preached by Jesus Christ and his apostles" (Walker 37). It is clear that Walker is connecting religion specifically with the Christian religion, and not using the word in it's broader sense. Also, the connotations with the word are very complicated for Walker, as he uses religious appeals as a call to action, but he also sees how religion has been used to manipulate his race. He states that "the way in which religion was an is conducted by the Europeans and their descendents, one might believe it was a plan fabricated by themselves and the devils to oppress us" (Walker 37). Describing religion as a fabricated plan is a very stark way of looking at religion, but Walker goes on to pose that he knows better, that there is a God that will deliver him. When Walker uses religion to refer to his own beliefs and the coming deliverance of the slaves, he uses the term in a context of a personal relationship with God and a mode through which redemption can be obtained. It is only when Walker uses the term in connection with the white Eurocentric institution of religion that he claims it to be an ideological tool used for oppression.



"The arm of royal authority then held a firm grasp on the consciences of men, and England was no place for him who spoke against the religion of his king" (10). The government tries to control the inner beliefs of a person, and because of this, this usage is in direct opposition to the idea of religion as a personal, private relationship with a higher being.

Furthermore, the schism between the Anglican and Puritan belief systems would go on to form the basis of the conflict between Mary Conant and her father. From the beginning of the novel, we are informed of Mr. Conant's malcontent with the Anglican church, and that "One by one all the associations connected with the religion of his fathers, were rent away, till kneeling became an abomination, and the prayers of his church a loathing." (10). Mary, by contrast, holds a great deal of respect for English culture and tradition, even going so far as to say that "[Her] heart yearns for England" when lamenting her place in the new world (24). This conflict over allegiance to a particular institution would go on to adversely affect Mary in several ways - most notably, her father's decree that she cannot see a young Anglican boy for whom she had fallen for. The differences between the Anglican and Purtian doctrines and teachings (That is, religion on a spiritual level) are trumped by religion's institutional view, and suggest this view's overbearing importance during the 17th century colonial era.

The Narrative of Robert Adams:

It is mentioned that the Kingdom of Tombuctoo is "one of the principal marts for that extensive commerce which the Moors carry on with the Negroes. The hopes of acquiring wealth in this pursuit, and zeal for propogating thier religion, have filled this extensive city with Moors and Mahomedan converts" (112). Later on in Park's letter, he notes how the landlord took him to his hut and said ,"if you are a Mussulman you are my friend,-and sit down; but if you are a Kafir you are my slave; and with this rope I will lead you to market"(112). Here religion is used in the sense of an ideological tool that is important to distinguish between people for economic reasons. This extreme prejudice towards anyone who is not a Moor or a Muslim is said to be imbedded into the mindset of the Moors (specifically the prejudice against Christians). This is even more clear on page 141, when the editor states that "Their barbarity towards Christians ought not to be tried by the same rules as the rest of their conduct; for although it has no bounds but those of self-interest may prescribe, it must almost be considered as a part of thier religion; so deep is the detestation which they are taught to feel for the 'unclean and idolatrous infidel.'" This is an interesting quote, because Robert Adams is subjected to this type of barbarous treatment while the Moors are trying to convert him, and this quote seems to justify the treatment in that it is part of the culture and a learned behavior. This says something about how religion was used during this time period: as a means to subjugate other groups of people who are different and pose an economic threat to oneself.

'Religion' as a moral code


In Charlotte Temple, Susanna Rowson uses the term religion in close connection with virtue and morality. Religion is a tenant which must be adhered to in order to gain social respect. When Charlotte is trying to persuade Montreville that she cannot elope with him, she says "I cannot go [...] cease, dear Montraville to persuade. I must not: religion, duty, forbid." (Rowson 47). In this context, religion is a restricting set of moral guidelines that are meant to be adhered to if one is to be a moral and virtous person. Religion is almost synonymous to duty. Also, in an aside to the reader, Rowson personifies the emotion of contentment, stating that "Her parent is Religion; her siters, Patience and Hope" (35). In this way, Rowson is implying that in order to live a happy life and eventually experience bliss, it is necessary to be dutiful to ones parent, Religion. Religious appeals are used throughout the novel, and it is clear that Rowson thinks that staying from God and disobeying one's loved ones go hand in hand.

Throughout Rowson's text, Charlotte stands as a stark foil to the forces of scheming seduction as a sort of symbol of piety, honesty, and virtue. As well as perhaps representing the idyllic, humble and penitent person, her archetype also highlights the worldly, "avaricious" motives of the novel's villains (whose trecahery may or may not relate to profanity, worldliness and thus the implied moral void implied by "secularity" [see below]).

In this sense, religion, as a defining character trait, diverges from the "faith" based institution that Jakobsen describes in her essay. Interestingly, this divergence marks not a change from the "religious" faith synonymous with belief in the supernatural, but rather, perhaps, an assumption that Protestant faith pervades Rowson's society to the extent that, rather than being viewed as an entity of faith or belief, it is an underlying code of morality as it is familiar and inherent to the society's cultural fabric and identity. From the use of religion in the text, religion seems to directly substitute for a widely understood set of dogma that comprises "Christian virtue" rather than serving as a term implying "Christian faith".

In Hobomok, the Christian religion is specifically used as a moral code by which the settlers at Salem must live. Almost the entire fifth chapter is a dialogue amongst the religious men of the town who are in a theological debate, each trying to justify their own way of thinking about morality.

Religion as an infallible ideal

In The Narrative of Robert Adams, Adams faces repeated challenges to his Christian belief system by foreign civilications. When ordered to work on the Sabbath, Adams refuses, stating that "it was not the custom of any slaves to work on the sabbath day, and that he was entitled to the same indulgence as the rest" (60). Adams adamantly adheres to his Christian belief system, despite intense physical abuse forcing him to do otherwise. He also refuses to kiss the feet and hands of his master's son, claiming it to be "contrary to his religion" and that no matter what the consequence, he will not do it. Adams' willingness to die for his faith reveals a type of "infallibility" related to religion; that religious teachings can be absolute in one's mind, and there is no degree of flexibility in trying to adapt it to a given civilization or society.

Also in The Narrative on page 43 Adams describes how the Negroes of Tombuctoo do not seem to practice any form of religion, "It does not appear that they have any public religion, as they have no house of worship, no priest, and as far as Adams could discover, never meet together to pray...the only ceremony that appeared like the act of prayer was on the occasion of the death of any of the inhabitants, when their relatives assembled and sat round the corpse. The burial is unattended with any ceremony..." This is very interesting because it is the first time in any of our readings that we have encountered a race of people that do NOT subscribe to any type of religion, therefore it seems that religion is not an all-encompassing term, but is actually in some cases completely irrelevant. Adams did notice that some of the Negroes were circumcised which he attributes to encounters with the Moors, thereby showing how religion in this case can be imposed by one culture onto another (as we have seen previously).

The idea of conversion is also prominent in The Narrative...the Moors are constantly trying to convince the Christians to become Mohammedans throughout the novel, and at the end of the story, Adams two crew mates Williams & Davison finally consent to renouncing Christianity & thus become Mohammedan & Adams is then the only remaining Christian at Wadinoon. The consequences for this is that Williams & Davison obtain their liberty, and are presented with "a horse, a musket, and a blanket each, and permitted to marry; no Christian being allowed at any of the places inhabited by Moors, to take a wife, or to cohabit with a Moorish woman." Adams thus becomes the brunt of much ridicule & harassment until his release. What is really interesting is how the Moors were obligated due to their religion to convince the Christians to convert, but this was at odds with their personal gain since if the Christians were to renounce their religion, they would become useless to the Moors since they would be freed from slavery & obtain their liberty, so the Moors were constantly in conflict with themselves & would sometimes tell Adams to resist conversion, and other times urge him to convert.

Distinguishing Related Words

It is important to distinguish the words "religion", "religious", "religiously", and "religiosity". If a person is said to be of a religious life, it commonly means that they have given their life in servitude of God (priests, nuns, monks, deacons, pastors, etc) There are many different forms of religious vocations, and when paired with that word 'vocation', being religious takes on the connotation of a job, just like any other form of employment, but a job that a person is called to do. In this respect (religion as a vocation) Franklin seems very much to believe that his vocation seems to be in sharing his story with the masses. He seeems to consider it almost his "moral obligation" or perhaps even "divine obligation" to society that he publish his autobiograhy and thus document his various inventions/works/achievements/ so that other's may learn from him & practice the same type of industrious & virtuous life. Therefore, perhaps this can even be seen as a type of "religious" vocation for Franklin.

Religiosity is an all-encompassing & quantitative term which represents or measures the degree to which a person participates in the myriad aspects of any given religion, from doctrine to dedication to practice.


Near antonyms for the word religion include agnosticism, atheism, and secularism. This is interesting because it shows how the word religion has shifted over time to come in conflict with things that are of the world (secularism) and beliefs that defy a belief in a higher being. As well, these possible antonyms introduce an elaborate paradox; whereas the intellectual or "reasoned" attitudes of secularism, agnosticism, etc. may be seen to 'oppose' religion, they may also be seen to present their own constructed, ideological mindset that dictates how a person/persons may understand or react to the world. Consequently, any said clarity that could be ascribed to the idea of any "religion" may suffer, as a convoluted and ambiguous term, from the the infinite intricacy and variance of its own application and context. As Jakobsen points out in her definition in "Keywords," other words that religion is often used in opposition to include: - science - reason - secular - profane - state

It is interesting to also look at modern uses of the word religion and new connotations that have come to be connected to the word. While reading in one of my other classes on DNA and evolution, the term “religion” was used in a context that was conflicting with the ideas of evolution and natural selection. This conflict is interesting and points to a dichotomy that our society sometimes forces individuals to make between science and religion. However, as we discussed amongst our group, a belief in science and its methodologies is a type of religion in and of itself, if religion is defined as a collection of beliefs that one holds to be truth. In this way, someone who believes in evolutionary biology may still deem themselves “religious,” and even follow conventional religious practices within a church through public worship. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.Religion as a construct of interpreting the world in ways not always pertaining exclusively to ceremony, divinity, or the supernatural.

Religion as pertaining to other Fields and/or Keywords


Phyllis Wheatley:



When reading through Wheatley's poems, it became evident that there is a definite connection between our two keywords: religion and civilization. As Wheatley illustrates, being civilized often means having religion, which is a concept stemming specifically from Western civilization, in which people are brought out of the darkness into the light of civilized society. Other words that religion is used in conjunction with include: -faith -reform -dogma -sacred -colonialism - church - race/ ethnicity

Wheatley also seems to latch onto religion as her ticket to upward social mobility in a world where religion dictated all aspects of a persons life. By extolling the virtues of Christianity and God and constantly reiterating her happiness at being saved from her previous heathen and unenlightened existence in Africa, she is playing into the conceptions of her new society & pushing all the correct buttons to convince these people that since she has accepted their religion that she is now one of them as well & in this way she eventually wins her own freedom from servitude. For Wheatley, religion was her key to freedom, and she uses religion to condemn slavery indirectly in her poetry. Americans strongly believed religion identified a person and Wheatley uses religion and the Bible to advocate equality by illustrating that God does not make any distinctions between black and white. "Some view our fable race with scornful eye, / 'Their colour is a diabolic die' / Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, / may be refin'd, and join th' angelic train." -from On Being Brought from Africa to America

Janet Jakobsen:

It is important to note that religion can’t very well be associated with reason or something that can be proven. As Janet Jakobsen pointed out, religion “is associated with the sacred rather tan the profane, and is aligned with dogma rather than reason” (201). In a way, as a result of this different cultures might be involved in a wide range of practices that vary from one to another. Unlike what we now consider “science”, there is no “true” religion or religious belief although throughout time people, mostly white men such as Jefferson, have believed that Christianity was above all others and tried to convert non-Christians into “the right path”.

David Walker:


Walker believes in spiritual equality, and he portrays religion and God as just. He believes in having no other Master but Jesus Christ (18) and criticizes the white Christian Americans for trying to keep people of color ignorant and trying to make them believe that God created them to be slaves. "Will the Lord suffer this people to go on much longer, taking his holy name in vain? Will he not stop them, PREACHERS and all? O Americans! Americans!! I call God- I call angels- I call men, to witness, that your DESTRUCTION is at hand, and will be speedily consummated unless you REPRENT" (45).

Additionally, Walker further implies the inherent link between Religion and sophistication and or civility; he criticizes whites for instead of "enlighten[ing] them by teaching them religion and that light of God,"... thusly, in addition to establishing links between his own "enlightenment" and Christian religion, he indirectly justifies a historically reoccurring sentiment that those with the "light of God" may have a responsibility to spread it unto others (21). While this is not what Walker argues in this passage, the permanence of this underlying assumption, even when utilized by an African American in critiquing white society, demonstrates the degree to which the aforementioned assumption was seen and implied as a truth rather than a principle.

To take into account other readings, the keywords Religion, Civilization, Indian, and White are clustered together in Franklin's autobiography. The following quote illustrates the intricate way in which these three keywords are connected: "And indeed if it be the Design of Providence to extirpate these Savages in order to make room for Cultivators of the Earth, it seems not improbable that Rum may be the appointed Means. It has already annihilated all the Tribes who formerly inhabited the Sea-coast" (Franklin 122). In this context, the word 'Savage' implies the Native American Indians that were formerly inhabiting America. The contrast between white European settlers 'cultivating' the land, and Indians merely 'inhabiting' the land is important, as Franklin does not allow for the possibility that the aboriginals could be improving the land on which they lived for so many centuries. The implication that the eradication of the Indians may be from their inability to control their rum consumption is a red herring to the truth, which is that the Indians were gradually forced from their lands. By positing this as the 'Design of Providence', Franklin is advocating the idea that it is alright to displace the Indian nations, who are not cultivators of the Earth, like the white man. In this example, Religion and White are both closely linked to the notion of Civilization, as religion is used as justification for the exclusion of Indians.


In Hobomok Lydia Maria Child is exploring the possibilty of religion without theology. Her distain for Calvinist theology is evident throughout much of the text. It is first seen on page 10 when she is speaking about the family that is suffering. It's as if she is mocking the man when she refers to him as the "rigid Calvinist" when speaking of how proud he is. Throughout much of the text Child seems to be mocking organized religion. "There are some among us, (and he looked full upon Brown, as he spoke,) who are violent and impatient in matters of religion, -- given to vain forms, and traditions of men; adhering with a blind, pertinacious zeal to the customs of their progenitors." Here Child's argument against a patriarchal religious system is clear. Calvinist theology approaches Christian religion as a way of life in which God rules over all things and emphasizing just that.


In Hobomok, religion is the means through which civilization and cultivation were stretched to America:

That light, which had arisen amid the darkness of Europe, stretched its long, luminous track across the Atlantic, till the summits of the western world be- came tinged with its brightness. During many long, long ages of gloom and corruption, it seemed as if the pure flame of religion was every where quenched in blood; -- but the watchful vestal had kept the sacred flame still burning deeply and fervently. (p. 2).

Narrative of Robert Adams: religion as a means to rank different groups of civilizations in a heirarchical way (Christians higher than Muslims)



In The Narrative of Robert Adams, there is a huge connection between a person's race and their religion. For example, Adams is physically African American, yet he is deemed as "White" by the Negroes from Timbuktoo and by the Moors. One quote that exemplifies this oxymoron is "Adams could not hear that any white man but themselves had ever been seen in the place; and he believes, as well fro what he was told by the Moors, as from the uncommon curiosity which he excited (though himself a very dark man, with short curly black hair), that they never had seen one before" (47). Joseph Dupois' note on this section is that "I do not imagin that the curiosity of the Negroes can have been excited so much on account of Adams' colour, as because he was a Christian, and a Christian slave, which would naturally be to them a source of great astonishment" (89). These two passages taken together are very insightful about the relationship between race and religion. In this text, it seems that a person's religion defines their race. A Frenchman and two other "Whites" that were previous acquaintances of Adams end up "turning Mohammaedan" (60) which changes thier title from a Christian to a Moor, and complicates what category they would fall into. Since this text is written by a Christian and published in a predominantly Christian country, it is not surprising that one race (the Christian race) is portrayed as culturally superior to the Moors who are mostly Muslim, and the Negroes who don't seem to practice any sort of public religion. It is interesting to note how conversion is presented as a barbarous action when it is the Moors who are trying to convert Adams, yet Christians were constantly trying to convert people as well. Conversion seems to be a way to incorporate other races, as well as a way for dividing races into distinct categories that can be subdued and subjected to the conquering races religion.



Thomas Jefferson:


In many ways, Science can be seen as a religion, wherein logic and observation progressively and dynamically yield a said "academic" mode of understanding. This is most overtly demonstrated by Jefferson's positions that he establishes in Notes on the State of Virginia through his own musings and assertions concerning the temperament of nature. Tempered through the acceptance of a "Maker" with nature's "laws," Jefferson, through "scientific understanding," demonstrates the extent to which science, a constructed set of comprehensions with its own dogmas, methodology, and politics, can be seen to entertain its own mythologies in dealing with what Jefferson calls nature's "inscrutable truths" (Jefferson 49,50). Thusly, as an ideology, science can perhaps be seen as a "religion;" though typically seen as an academic, secular field, science does construct its own paradigm of faith and understanding that dictates how its 'believers' view and comprehend their surroundings. Epitomizing this view, Merrill Peterson articulates in his novel "Adams and Jefferson," that Thomas Jefferson "held that the duties of religion were of no concern to the state," and thus he presents an idea of a 'secular' state as a political entity separate from the dogmas of religion while perhaps not considering that his ideas of "secularism" and a "secular-state" are projected 'realities' who exist as valid constructs only in opposition to our understanding of "religion" and a '"religious-state". This definition by contrast may present secularism as its own world view, but may also demonstrate its existence as a view working against or within the context or our culture's understanding of religion. Thusly, as an ideological world-view, the idea of "secularism" may also be subject to the standard tenets and scrutiny of typical of our definitions of "religion". Jakobsen relates this irony to the whole of the American church-state experience, referencing the "American paradox" (idea that a culturally Christian nation cannot be claim to be institutionally secular)that stands to contradict itself at both a rhetorical and political level, and this point may account for the historically dynamic views of church-state relations in the United States, as the temperament of the issue (as a paradox) is perhaps unsolvable.

Following this, science can most definitely be seen as its own type of religion; As Peterson further explicates Jefferson's philosophy, the convolution of the aforementioned paradox is made even more intricate: he argues that Jefferson desired an ideal "not only of a democratic republic, but a "republic of science," and he spoke of freedom as the "first-born daughter of science," further associating the reasoned nature of secularism and science, as a world view, together.(Peterson, 75,77)


In Jefferson, on pages 103-108, he talks about the Barrows which were used as repositories of the dead or Indian burial grounds. Jefferson explains how he wanted to examine these grounds, and so he goes there & begins excavating & digging up all of these bones, some of which disintegrate in his hands & he explains how they "generally fell to pieces on being touched". I found it interesting that Jefferson seems to have such little respect for what should have been considered hallowed or sacred & very religious grounds. It seems that the fact that these are Indian religious grounds rather than Christian religious grounds, makes a huge difference in how he treats the sanctity of the place, and in this way the keywords Religion & Indian seem to cluster together.

Religion & Indian also seem to cluster together on pages 156-157 when Jefferson talks about how a main concern of the state of virginia is to convert the Indians to Christianity, and how the Brafferton institution is required to instruct Indians in the principles of Christianity. In this case religion would be used in a residual context, as a stand-in for Christianity when pertaining to the dominant religion of the white man, but religion is also used as a stand-in for ethnicity when pertaining to the Indians.


Marriage is related to religion in many contexts: Matrimony is the formal religious ceremony that consecrates the union of two people. Marriage is performed by a minister, which is a religious figure, at least in its non-legal form. Marriage is regulated by the state & nation in terms of who is legally eligible for marriage, and these requirements often exclude same-sex marriages based on religious issues. Marriage can be terminated by divorce, but many religions consider divorce to be a sin. Pre-marital sex is also often considered a sin.

This only shows that religion is not only something that is supposedly a relationship between an individual and a higher being, but it is a system of dictatorship considering that whoever is in charge of declaring what is right and wrong, sanctioned and sinful, has the power to rule over a nation. After all, by saying that same-sex marriages and divorces are a sin, those acts are prevented considering that the majority of the people would obey those “religious orders.” This way, the people of a nation are under the control of the religion in charge, which is rather interesting now since we supposedly have a separation of church and state, yet many people who oppose same-sex marriages today rely on it being a sin as a reason against it.



Religion is very closely tied to the relationship between culture and national identity. As it relates to the project of nation building and cultivating a group dynamic in a cultural national identity, religion acts as an important benchmark in society. The process of including or excluding those whose religious affiliation differs from the norm is part of a larger process of self-identification of values that works towards the building of a national definition of a distinctive society. Those whose basic belief systems differ from a collective group’s are flagged as outsiders and excluded from the nation in an effort to better define those that are included. Janet R. Jakobsen recognizes religion’s participation in this process as she describes Christianity and minority groups; “U.S. racial categories grew out of what was originally a religious distinction between Christians and ‘strangers’… as Africans converted to Christianity, this distinction shifted toward a racial category, while a refusal to convert, as was the case with some Native Americans, was also increasingly taken as a marker of an inherent difference.” (202) It is these inherent differences of religion and their relation to the cohesive threads of society that helps to define a nation by the very elements which they are not.

Nation building through religious distinctions played a role in the narrative of Charlotte Temple. Her elopement with Montraville and immigration to the Americas works to illustrate how religious beliefs (and in Charlotte’s case, acting against them) can deem someone an outcast upon which those included in the national identity can reaffirm their beliefs. When Charlotte’s neighbor, Mrs. Beauchamp recognized her dishonorable situation, she reflected on how it must feel to be cast aside by society for losing her virtue and working against the tenants of religious belief; “and her heart bled at the reflection, that perhaps deprived of honor, friends, and all that was valuable in life, she was doomed to linger out a wretched existence in a strange land…” (73) Although Mrs. Beauchamp felt sympathetic to Charlotte's "outsider" status, there was still vindication in her own status in polite society because of the desperate situation of her neighbor.

In this selection religion is understood to be part of the fabric of society governing the appropriate actions of the peoples of nations. As stated above, marriage is a formal religious ceremony, as well as a legal one, that brings together two people. The "virtuous" and "honorable" marital guidelines work in a nation to regulate dutiful behaviors of those that take part in nationhood. Elizabeth Freeman related the religious ceremony of marriage to nation by acknowledging that it was intended to be, "a template for the ideal society." (153) By acting against these tenants of religious belief Charlotte jeopardized her standing in civilized society and could no longer participate in the national identity.

Thomas Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia approaches nationalism and religious differences in the same sense of exclusion and inclusion witnessed in the keywords text. Within the query “ ‘Religion’ The different religions received into that state” Jefferson discusses the relationship between the dominant religious practices and the Quakers, who were the subjugated minority: “The first settlers in this country were emigrants from England, of the English church, just at a point of time when it was flushed with complete victory over the religious of all other persuasions. Possessed, as they became, of the powers of making, administering, and executing the laws, they shewed equal intolerance in this country with their Presbyterian brethren, who had emigrated to the northern government. The poor Quakers were flying from persecution in England. They cast their eyes on these new countries as asylums of civil and religious freedom; but they found them free only for the reigning sect. Several acts of the Virginia assembly of 1659, 1662, and 1693, had made it penal in parents to refuse to have their children baptized; had prohibited the unlawful assembling of Quakers; had made it penal for any master of a vessel to bring a Quaker into the state; had ordered those already here, and such as should come thereafter, to be imprisoned till they should abjure the country…”

Jefferson accurately portrays the dominance of a favored collective group as they attempt to exclude the Quakers from the national religious identity. In this way, religious belief and favoritism lends a hand is establishing a definition of what is acutely not desired and not included in defining religion in the nation. This process of creating laws forbidding and ostracizing minority groups is quintessentially nation building.

In Jeffersons works the idea of relgion is how the nation came to be. Fear of relgious persecution drove the settlers from England in hopes of finding a place where they could be free to practice there religious beliefs however they saw fit without risk of punishment. It was this desire that led to a forming of a nation. In many nations, the yearning for relgious freedom is what helped them establish a civilization.

Each selection represents religious nation building’s process of exclusion in remarkably different ways. Charlotte Temple’s portrayal focuses on societal behaviors that are deemed virtuous and proper according to religious tenets such as marriage. Through social relationships between men and women, public scrutiny of behaviors that oppose religious norms work to define good nationals and undesired ones. Jefferson’s work, however, illustrates how judicial laws and governmental process are intricately linked in religious persecution and more intimately builds national regulations that the people must follow.

Modern Context

  • As aptly demonstrated by the Church of Scientology, which has been steadily increasing in popularity during recent years, and has been brought into the media spotlight & integrated into pop culture through famous celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, and John Travolta, constantly touting its benefits.*

""Religion"" as pertaining to politics has been getting a lot of media attention lately as we are currently going through the presidential primaries, and two candidates from the GOP have been garnering a lot of attention & causing a lot of controversy due to their religious backgrounds. Mitt Romney is a Mormon & Mike Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister. This has brought up a modern discussion of the separation between church & state, as some people are worried that the candidates' religious beliefs may play too large a role in their political agendas, policy making, or critical national decisions.

""Religion"" and its role in recent terrorist attacks such as 9/11. In order for something to be classified as an act of 'religious terrorism', the perpetrators must use religious scriptures to justify or explain their violent acts or to gain recruits and there must be some sort of clerical figures involved in some leadership roles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_terrorism).

Works Cited

Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin Classics, 1999. 1785, France (First Edition)

Peterson, Merrill D. Adams and Jefferson. London: Oxford UP, 1976.

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.

Burgett, Bruce and Glenn Hendler. Ed. Keywords for American Cultural Studies. New York: New York UP, 2007.

Walker, David. Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. University Park, PA: University of Pennsylvania UP, 2000.

Rowson, Susanna. Charlotte Temple. New York, New York: Oxford UP, 1986.

Adams, Charles Hansford. The Narrative of Robert Adams A Barbary Captive. New York, New York: Cambridge UP, 2005.

Wheatley, Phillis. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. New York, New York: New York Public Library Online, 1997.

Child, Lydia Maria Francis. Hobomok. Boston, Massachusetts: Cummings, Hilliard & Co. 1824.