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Abstract

Civil religion, or the connection of the nation-state, its history, destiny, and people, to understandings of transcendence or divinity, is in crisis both as a theoretical concept and as a politico-cultural phenomenon. The crisis has been brought about by the weakened capacity of the nation-state to generate collective identity and a version of ‘charismatic’ authority. We argue that this has resulted in a shift from the widely accepted conceptualization of civil religion as a unifying force in societies to a more exclusionary force that Williams (2103) calls “tribal civil religion” That, in its own way, undermines the nation-state. In this paper, we examine the history and various understandings of the concept of civil religion, develop an argument that the assault on the nation-state has meant the rise of increasingly exclusive and exclusionist expressions of civil religion, and present possible suggestions for sites where ‘unitive’ civil religion may still be found.