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Secularism, Pluralism, and Publics in America

Summary and Keywords

In the United States, religious, political, and social life has been structured by a public/private binary. Oftentimes, religion is understood as private and politics as public. This framework informs a religious/secular binary and carries important implications for the structure of American life. Particularly affected arenas include church-state relations; religious discourse in public life, including prophetic protest and religious nationalism; sexual regulation and the politics of morality; and norms of civic and civil discourse.

Real politics and consequences attend the definition of terms like “religious,” “secular,” and “pluralist.” Many observers have called the United States a secular, pluralist nation and, simultaneously, the most “religious” nation in the “developed world.” The perceived incongruities or affinities among these labels betray fundamental assumptions about religion and its place in public life. When public figures invoke the language and imagery of “civil religion,” for example, they may be understood to sacralize the public sphere or bring religion into the public or treat the nation’s “shared” symbols with a religious reverence. Although pluralism, as both a demographical description and a progressive goal, has been broadly championed amid growing religious diversity, certain groups, ideas, and practices have nevertheless remained excluded from the realms of public secularism and private (proper) religiosity. The politics are messy and often subtle, but the consequences can be stark. In these ways and more, American life has been shaped by the entwined concepts of secularism, pluralism, and publics.

Keywords: secularism, pluralism, publics, counterpublic, public sphere, religious freedom, religion and politics, state governance


What does it mean to say that the United States is (or is not) a secular, pluralist nation? Both secularism and pluralism are malleable, flexible terms whose pliability contributes to their utility. Scholars and “real people” alike use these terms. They are not simply analytical tools bandied about by academics; they fill newspaper op-eds, drive policy, and form cornerstones of identities that unite and divide. Secularism and pluralism are central tropes in the history and historiography of American religions, and they operate within a basic overarching framework: the public and the private.

The distinction between public and private is a primary organizing principle of American religious life, foundational to the schema by which religion itself is defined. As Michael Warner has argued, “The orientations of public and private are rooted in what anthropologists call habitus.”1 They feel natural, and their logic is readily felt if not always readily explicable. In a similar—not just similar but intimately entwined—fashion, the religion/secular binary is “a differential that has become all but essentialized.”2 Religion in the United States often has been conceptualized as inherently private. Betraying the Protestant foundations of the nation’s dominant classes, as well as the study of American religions, individual belief has been equated with religion itself.3 Rituals were at best signs pointing to the real substance of religion, at worst fetishistic distractions.4 Since the 1980s, scholars have challenged and in many ways upended these assumptions. However, in so doing they have nevertheless leaned on a distinction between public and private. For these scholars, though, religion “happens” in the pews and in the streets, in the material culture, in the dress and the smells and the kitsch.5 These are the practices operating outside, or in response to, the “public transcript,” as James Scott put it.6 Thus, even within a religious community or tradition there are public and private natures of religion. A commonly cited example is the discrepancy between Vatican teachings on contraceptives and the very high rate of Catholics who use them anyway.7

Scholars may focus on “popular” or “lived” religion, as opposed to “official” religion, but they are not the only ones for whom the bounds of “religion” are at stake. Religious freedom, as understood by secular states, depends on a definition of religion. As Winnifred Sullivan described in The Impossibility of Religious Freedom, Judge Kenneth Ryskamp, a Presbyterian, wondered if “vertical grave decorations” were part of claimants’ religious practice and thus protected as free exercise of religion. Would disallowing vertical grave markers substantially burden their practice of religion itself? In other words, was it a religious practice, or just a cultural practice that these religious people do? (He decided it was the latter.)8 The judge’s decision fits within a history of free exercise case law, dating at least to Reynolds v. United States (1879), in which courts have affirmed that laws “cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices.”9 The religion that is protected is (“mere”) religious belief.

The law, then, is a public thing, dealing with actions, whereas religion dwells in private. At the same time, individual private beliefs are then the bases of certain public rights and privileges. The relation between these realms is messy and tenuous. For instance, how does the state really know what one’s private beliefs are? How can it determine religious sincerity, and is religious sincerity qualitatively different from other matters of truthfulness? How exactly can private believers “translate” (in accordance with what John Rawls called the “translation proviso”) their private consciences into public reasons?10 The section “Secularism” discusses “public” as an adjective and the ways that the state/church binary relates to public/private and secular/religious. This is not only pertinent to the history of American religious freedom and politics; it also prompts central theoretical and methodological questions about how scholars of American religion select their data. But “public” is not just an adjective; it is also a noun.

A public is a discursive community, sometimes in one physical place, but often not. Though individual publics, constituted through discourse, are numerous, many Americans maintain an idea of “the public,” a sort of “imagined community.”11 In American religious history, certain religious groups—as their religious identities are forged and maintained in dynamic intersection with class, racial, sexual, and gender identities—have understood themselves as broadly representative of the public. The United States’ identity as a secular nation can complicate or even contradict religious nationalism, nevertheless, secularism and religious nationalism have coexisted, often quite comfortably throughout American history. Scholars such as Tracy Fessenden have shown how a generic (white) Protestantism has oftentimes stood in for “religion” itself, which can be understood, in Warner’s terms, as a public acting as the public.12 These elisions are rarely explicit in the 21st century, at least among self-consciously secularist or pluralist Americans, but they can be perceived in the texts of what some call “civil religion.” For instance, in his first inaugural address, President Barack Obama quoted the New Testament as “scripture” even as he declared that “we are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”13 Few batted an eye at Obama’s Pauline reference, but the reaction likely would have quite different if he said, “in the words of scripture . . .” and then quoted, say, the Bhagavad-Gita or the Qur’an.

Although religious identities, like religion itself, are understood to be private, they are nevertheless relevant to the public business of citizenship. Consider, for instance, president Andrew Jackson’s 1830 message to Congress, in which he defended Indian removal as a benevolent policy because it “perhaps” would encourage Native Americans “to cast off their savage habits and become and interesting, civilized, and Christian community.”14 Jackson racialized Native Americans as colonial subjects, but he argued that their inferiority was due to their “savage habits,” which they possibly could outgrow, converting instead to civilization and Christianity, thus joining the American public. However, overcoming racial boundaries usually would not be so easy as religious conversion.

Nearly a century later, in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), the US Supreme Court ruled that Bhagat Singh Thind was not a “white person” and thus was ineligible for citizenship, despite his logical yet clever argument that, as a “high caste Hindu, of full Indian blood,” he was indeed “white,” in accordance with popular understandings of Aryan and Indo-European lineage.15 The Court relied on the standard it had established only a few months earlier in Ozawa v. United States (1922), when it ruled that the term “free white persons” as used in immigration and naturalization law is a phrase “of common speech, to be interpreted in accordance with the understanding of the common man.”16 The “common man,” a representative abstraction of the public, was the arbiter of whiteness. The public is organized by discourse, but, as Thind’s failure to persuade the Court illustrates, the public sphere is not devoted solely to purely “rational” democratic deliberation. The public itself is affectively and discursively constituted.17

Nationalism, of the white or Christian varieties or both, shows the affective potency of publicness. Finbarr Curtis has written of the 1915 film Birth of a Nation, “[Director D. W.] Griffith used the medium of film to appeal to visceral, intuitive feelings of populist victimization in order to convey the urgency of protecting white Christian nationhood.”18 Nevertheless, even as it can be defined in exclusive terms, the national public has ways to incorporate strangers. Sara Ahmed argues, “By implication, the abstract includes everybody as it is not shaped by the concrete specificity of bodies. Others can become a part of the community of strangers on condition that they give up visible signs of their ‘concrete difference.’”19 In this way, the “unmarked,” lacking these signs (especially those of supposedly immutable difference), can more easily represent the public. But others can join if their signs of difference are either surrendered, or, as has been the case with various white “ethnic” groups, their differences are no longer thought to make a difference.20 “Such an [national] ideal is not positively embodied by any person: it is not a positive value in this sense,” Ahmed writes. “Rather, it accrues value through its exchange, an exchange that is determined precisely by the capacity of some bodies to inhabit the national body, to be recognisable as living up to the national ideal in the first place.”21

A similar process undergirds long-discussed questions of religious nationalism—is the United States, a Christian nation, a secular nation, a pluralist nation?—and more incisive analysis of the production of publics and counterpublics should advance understanding of the racialized material processes that underwrite such questions.22 How, exactly, do “religious outsiders” “make Americans”?23 This production changes over time, from the synthetic Protestantism of the 19th century to the Judeo-Christian America of the mid-20th century to the contested liberal pluralism of the 21st.24 The process of constituting the public entails the “expulsion” of the certain groups and individuals, who then might form counterpublics, which are defined by their differentiation from the dominant public.25

Nancy Fraser coined the term “counterpublics,” noting that “not only were there were always a plurality of competing publics but the relations between bourgeois publics and other publics were always conflictual. Virtually from the beginning, counterpublics contested the exclusionary norms of the bourgeois public, elaborating alternative styles of political behavior and alternative norms of public speech.” American religious history is full of counterpublics. Because nondominant (dominated) groups orient themselves to the dominant groups, histories of counterpublics illustrate a politics of power and focus attention on nonelite or “outsider” groups.26

Citizenship, race, gender, class, and sex structure American life. Within these complex frameworks individuals and groups construct and reconstruct their practices and identities. Publics, publicness, and the public/private binary are fundamental concepts, and they are especially pertinent to the place of religion in American life. Because religion happens within these same frameworks, intersecting dynamically with other identities, themes, categories, and institutions, what it means for religion to be “public” or “private” is not a consideration that is unique to religion. When Americans talk about “religion in public” or “religion and public life,” their conceptions of both “religion” and “public” are shaped by attendant motifs and classificatory schema. In a certain sense, perhaps all aspects of American religion hinge on publicness and privateness, and on publics. In church-state (or religion-government) relations, these considerations are brought to bear, demonstrating the centrality of the public and private.


The word “secularism” is used very often by scholars of American religion—and, in some cases, only slightly less often by the people they study. A survey of recent literature in American religions finds many different senses of secularism (and the secular, secularity, and secularization).

The term “secularism” was coined, or at least popularized, by George Jacob Holyoake in the mid-19th century. For Holyoake, secularism was “a policy of life to those who do not accept Theology.” He wrote, “Secularity draws the line of separation between the things of time and the things of eternity.”27 In this way, the secular was something separate from the religious, so that we might have secular schooling, for example, which did not rely on theological teachings.28 Holyoake went beyond this strict form of liberal church-state separation, though, to propose that secularism might be a way of life, that people could live secularly, opting for secularity over and against religion. Thus, Holyoake was not simply a liberal theorist advocating a nonreligious public sphere (though he was that too); he was part of a broader English and Anglo-American movement that was self-consciously secular. These secularists wanted public life emptied of God, and they wanted the same for their private lives.29

Those two senses of secularism still go together. In fact, as Joseph Blankholm has shown, the ambiguities of the term provide opportunities for collaboration and political coalition, as is evident from the affiliations among church-state separation groups and atheist and freethinking groups, such as the Secular Coalition, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.30 For instance, American Atheists was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an outspoken atheist who brought a suit that led to Abington v. Schempp, the US Supreme Court case that found devotional Bible reading in public schools to violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.31 Advocacy of separation features prominently in American Atheists’ self-conception and narrations of their own history. Their website states, “Since 1963, American Atheists has protected the absolute separation of religion from government and raised the profile of atheists and atheism in our nation’s public and political discourse.”32 There is nothing inherent in atheism, the disbelief in gods, that necessarily entails a strong belief in church-state separation. However, public and legal separationist campaigns, such as those opposing creationism in public schools, have become a central component of the public work of many atheist groups. In practice, these different types of secularism are often closely connected.

In his influential A Secular Age (2007), Charles Taylor outlined three models of secularism. According to the first, “public spaces” “have been allegedly emptied of God, or of any reference to ultimate reality.” The second model posits a “falling off of religious belief and practice, in people turning away from God, and no longer going to Church.”33 The first model, then, is about the public, and the second concerns the private, though both are premised on a division between religious and secular that reflects the one between public and private. The relationship between these two senses is complex and can work differently in different situations, as José Casanova and others have shown.34 Some states might remove “reference to ultimate reality” from the public sphere because religious observance has declined among the population. In other cases, the implementation of this public standard can effect real change among the citizens, either helping to further the secularization of private life or, conversely, strengthening and bolstering religious observance.

In the 20th-century United States, many social scientists, theologians, and others believed that the country was characterized by both models, each perpetuating the other as the nation became increasingly secularized. Some believed that this portended a theological crisis and searched for ways to stem the tide. The “religious right,” some scholars have argued—and many members of the movement have self-narrated—resisted this secularization of public life, especially as evinced by the removal of prayer and devotional Bible reading from public schools. Just as secularist movements linked their lack of religious belief and practice with the secularization of public life, many American Christians have sought to resacralize the public sphere, as a means of spurring popular religious revival or reasserting a supposedly lost religious nationalism.35

Most scholars now find the two models of secularism inaccurate, or at least overstated. Surveys have shown that religious belief in the United States did not wane through the 20th century (although this might be changing in the 21st), and indeed, with the rise of the religious right and the prominence of religious ideas and figures in public debates about marriage and reproductive rights, it seems that the American public sphere has not been “emptied” of God at all.36 However, the character of that public religion—how theologically specific it is, how it relates to private religious practice and affiliation, how much political and cultural power religious actors really have, and how increasing religious diversity affects religion in public life—is a topic for much deliberation and debate, some of which is discussed, relatively briefly, in the section “Pluralism.”

Taylor proposed a third, preferable model of secularism, which “would focus on the conditions of belief.”37 What is it possible to believe? What intellectual inheritances, cultural assumptions, and, to use Taylor’s term, “social imaginaries,” make certain beliefs believable, even common sense, and others hard to believe? In the modern world, Taylor contended, belief in God is one option among many, whereas in the “axial age” religious belief was basically impossible not to have, since it structured all knowledge production. This approach has been taken up by numerous scholars in recent years, as it meshes well with structuralist (orthodox or otherwise) sociological and anthropological theories and with Foucauldian investigations of epistemes and “grids of intelligibility.” This model also finds roots in Holyoake, who spoke of secularism as a “ground of common unity for all who would regulate life by reason and ennoble it by service.”38 And, furthermore, this model seems to support liberal political theory, insofar as the public, to which all citizens have access, becomes a space for deliberation. In this way, the three models of secularism and secularization might reinforce each other.

When religion is conceptualized as private, this framework creates a gap between private (religious) belief and public (secular) argument. If sectarian religious ideas, what John Rawls called “comprehensive moral doctrines,” are insufficiently public reasons, they are relegated to the private sphere.39 As Casanova has described this process, “the privatization of religion reaches the point in which it becomes both “irreverent” and “in bad taste” to expose one’s religiosity publicly, in front of others. Like the unconstrained exposure of one’s private bodily parts and emotions, religious confessions outside the strictly delimited religious sphere are considered not only a degradation of one’s privacy but also an infringement upon the right to privacy of others.”40 Religion is put in its place (literally, in some cases). It follows, perhaps, that as religious reasons are expelled from public discourse (and here it is worth distinguishing public deliberation about coercive policy from other types of public speech) that individual devotion to them would wane as well. As the common ground of reason excludes certain religious beliefs from the public, it also renders them unbelievable or, at least, very hard to believe. The history of religion and public life in the United States does not support this thesis, for the most part. There are multiple reasons for this, some of which have already been discussed here, but a focus on the “conditions of belief” can help to critique the first two models by showing the entanglements of the religious and the secular.

To this end, scholars have worked to discover the religious—generally Protestant—imaginaries that construct our putatively “secular” public and even private lives.41 Even as certain political ideas and projects might be cast in ostensibly secular terms, religion often lies at their genealogical roots. For instance, Janet Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini have asked, regarding the regulation of sex in the United States, “how it has come to pass that Christian theological pronouncements have become so institutionalized in the official life of the nation that they can be taken for just good old American values.”42 Other scholars have analyzed the unmarked Protestant, sometimes explicitly anti-Catholic, underpinnings of “generic” American values, including the very separation of the private and the public.43 This erasure of particularity is itself a powerful function of the secular. Secularism, then, is a political doctrine that creates these separate spheres—and, just as importantly, maintains and polices their boundaries—and then, usually, masks the contingencies of these creative acts.

Talal Asad and other scholars have argued that the term “secularism” is best applied to a “political doctrine.” It is not so much the conditions of belief or unbelief, or how many people do not go to church. Rather, secularism is a project. This project’s goal is not necessarily to eliminate religion—in fact, via protections of religious freedom and, increasingly, governmental collaboration with religious groups to advance shared interests, the secular state preserves, protects, and even promotes religion—but to define and confine it. Building on these ideas, Vincent Lloyd has explained, “Secularism names the regime that determines what does and does not count as appropriate religion for a particular sphere . . . Secularism evokes a religious domain that is managed by power and that is circumscribed by nonreligious forces.”44 Thus, secularism produces religion. In so doing, the state adjudicates what is public and what is private. The privatization of religion is an important aspect of American public life, and a more Asadian vein of secularism studies promises attention to the powerful mechanisms for constructing and maintaining these boundaries. Combined with a genealogical approach to public ideas (including “the public” itself), this brand of secularism studies should illuminate the contours of “religion and public life.”


As the United States has grown more religiously diverse, especially since 1965, the place of religion in public life has changed considerably. Americans always have been religiously diverse, but the number of religious groups, from “world religions” like Buddhism and Islam to new religious movements, has grown. These changes have prompted questions about the place of religion in public life and even the category “religion” itself. As noted, one of the most pertinent reasons Americans define “religion” is to ensure religious freedom. Many of the most important religious-freedom legal cases since the 1940s, when the First Amendment’s religion clauses were incorporated against the states, have dealt with new religious movements or other non-Christian (or, at least, nonmainstream Protestant) religions.45 To some extent, the question of pluralism is whether, how, and to what degree religion, which is assumed to be private, may be involved in the public sphere. When the public cannot ignore religion—such as, as Isaac Weiner has described, when religious sound pierces into and resonates throughout secular spaces—does the public embrace religion or corral it?46 Or both?

Pluralism can indicate simple demographic facts: the United States is home to many religions that coexist more or less peacefully. Thus, we have a pluralistic society. In another, more specific sense, though, pluralism is a positive program of engaging and celebrating religious diversity and interreligious dialogue. Although religious nationalism, specifically Christian nationalism, is as old as the nation, in the 20th century more Americans began to herald religious diversity as an American value. In some cases, this melded with accounts describing the American public and its public rhetoric and figures as particularly religious. “Civil religion,” a term popularized by Robert Bellah in 1967, offers one framework for understanding the pluralistic realities of the 20th-century United States. Bellah argued,

The separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension. Although matters of personal religious belief, worship, and association are considered to be strictly private affairs, there are, at the same time, certain common elements of religious orientation that the great majority of Americans share. These have played a crucial role in the development of American institutions and still provide a religious dimension for the whole fabric of American life, including the political sphere. This public religious dimension is expressed in a set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals that I am calling American civil religion. The inauguration of a president is an important ceremonial event in this religion. It reaffirms, among other things, the religious legitimation of the highest political authority.47

For Bellah, traditional religion authorized public authority, but it also lent a certain character to public life. Among scholars, the popularity of the concept of “civil religion” has waxed and waned. Part of its appeal is the flexible ambiguity; it can refer to public religions, the religious or quasi-religious functions of political rhetoric, or the “sacred” character of classic political speeches or foundational political documents like the Declaration of Independence. However it is considered, civil religion represents an attempt to understand and respond to religious diversity in a manner both secular and pluralistic.

The Pluralism Project, founded in the 1990s and led by Harvard Divinity School professor Diana Eck, advocates a more celebratory and active version of pluralism.48 The Pluralism Project’s website explains the concept in four points: “First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity . . . Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference . . . Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments . . . Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue.”49 Whereas mid-20th-century attempts at something like pluralism tended to erase or minimize difference in service of national identity, the Pluralism Project seeks to emphasize and celebrate difference—within limits, of course—also in the service of national identity, that of a tolerant, diverse, liberal nation.50 We might call this Eck’s “salad bowl” pluralism over and against Will Herberg’s hyphenated “melting pot” pluralism.51

This model of tolerance was both strengthened and diminished by the events of September 11, 2001. On one hand, in a time of what many interpreted to be a global religious conflict, idealistic celebration of interfaith meetings and Midwestern mosques seemed to miss the bigger picture, ignoring pertinent intolerance and violence. On the other hand, many believed that 9/11 and the “War on Terror” increased a need for “religious literacy” and interreligious dialogue. Politicians became invested in the politics of religious authenticity, as when president George W. Bush insisted, on September 17, 2001, that (real) “Islam is peace.”52 Conversely, others, including US lawmakers and national security personnel, have insisted that Islam was not a religion at all, but rather a political ideology.53 These debates continue, taking on new salience amid textbook controversies, banned books, First Amendment cases, and president Donald Trump’s executive orders restricting travel and barring entry into the country to refugees from certain predominately Muslim nations. The United States government in other cases encourages cooperation among religious groups and affiliates with religious groups domestically and abroad to promote tolerance and advance national security aims.54 In the new politics of pluralism, secular governments promote and partner with certain (inter)religious groups to advocate religious reform (moderation) in the service American foreign and domestic policy goals. Religious freedom itself, conceptualized as a human right and thus imagining the human as something inherently (at least potentially) religious, has become a foreign policy objective.55

The privatization of religion leads to this naturalization of religion, a complicated framework for the law to accommodate.56 In some ways, this shift accelerated in 1965, not just with changes to immigration law that directly led to increased religious diversity, but also with United States v. Seeger, in which the US Supreme Court interpreted “religious belief,” for the purposes of conscientious objection, to mean a “sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualified for the exemption.”57 Some critics, such as Brad Gregory, have found that the unmooring of religious belief, indeed of belief in general, from institutional authority has led to confusion in the public sphere. In our new world of “hyperpluralism,” Gregory argues, there is almost no way in a public setting to determine if beliefs are true.58 John Inazu has recently suggested “confident pluralism” as a solution to this pluralistic problem: “Confident pluralism” he explains, “offers a political solution to the practical problem of our deep differences. Instead of the elusive goal of E pluribus unum, it suggests a more modest possibility—that we can live together in our ‘manyness.’”59 As the history of American pluralism, secularism, and publics has thus far shown, though, the “many” is never quite the “all.”

Secularism, Pluralism, and Publics

American secularism creates or presumes a public “common ground,” while accommodating and protecting religion, which nevertheless always will find some parties neither religious nor fully secular, in part due to their improper styles of privacy and publicness. Whether pluralism is understood to be a problem, a solution, or both, in the United States it works simultaneously to celebrate and obscure difference. As Andrew Shryock has written regarding Muslims in “Western” societies, “When ‘friendship’ is subordinated to the demands of sameness—whether conceived in national or human terms—it can be just as coercive, just as prone to misrecognition, as the sentiments of hostility it is meant to correct.”60 American pluralism attempts to answer questions of how to live publicly in a religiously diverse, secular society. Pluralism requires common ground. In American liberalism, that common ground has often included fundamental assumptions about what is public and what is private. These secular notions, though, are premised at least partly on religious ideas. Furthermore, distinctions about which practices, words, and ideas should be public are imbrued with regulatory politics of gender, race, sex, and class. The liberal subject, increasingly understood as fundamentally religious, is neither universal nor natural, though understanding it as such is crucial to the new global politics of religion and religious freedom.

Secularism, pluralism, and publics each and all contribute to disciplinary regimes, bolstered policing religions, and “religion.” The category of religion itself carries with it a series of attendant associations in an assemblage of significations. As Joan Wallach Scott has demonstrated, the public/private dichotomy is also a men/women dichotomy, and thus when religious is confined within the private, it becomes the purview of women, and both are denied access to publicness, to politics and economy. She writes, “If secularism is a discourse about the articulation of the sovereign identity of Western European nation-states, then a racialized gender (the attribution of meaning to the difference of sex) is at the heart of that discourse.”61 Furthermore, the religious/female is more emotional than rational and thus viewed with suspicion when acting publicly. However, because “unregulated” or “excessive” religious expression has been associated with women, blackness, and the “primitive,” some people are seen as less capable than others to be secular or properly religious.62 Black subjects, Josef Sorett has argued, “entered modernity as a racial anathema, as both religious and void of religion. And, ultimately, if by virtue of misrecognition, they were taken for granted as the embodied antisecular.”63 Within secularism, religion itself must be subsumed under a secular logic within which the religious knows its place. If it acts out of place—if it is excessive, unregulated, violent, hyperschismatic, cult-like, fundamentalist, queer, or weird—it might be gendered and racialized, recast as the superstitious or fanatical.

Michael Warner argued that as the distinction between public and private becomes more felt than cognized, more perceived than articulated, the religious/secular binary structured by it becomes similarly affective. Thus, religion—or spirituality—becomes atomized, internal, individual. Secular, pluralist societies like the United States must then address the complicated politics of private religions and public life. Myriad factors complicate this process, but perhaps the most fundamental is the way these categories are co-constituted and intersect with so many others. To protect “religious freedom” or to bar “religious discourse” from public spaces requires techniques of secularism as well as precise delineations of spheres, all of which are tangled in complex genealogies. Indeed, the scholarly study of American religion is in many ways premised on the very distinction it now often seeks to interrogate.

Review of the Literature

Many scholars who have studied American religion and public life have used the term “civil religion,” as popularized by Robert Bellah.64 Others have focused on overtly political actions, and arenas, such as national electoral politics, by straightforwardly religious actors. Among such modern political and religious movements the most prominent, in terms of both popular and scholarly attention, has been the religious right (or Christian right). Scholarship on this political brand of religious conservatism is voluminous.65 One reason this movement was important, in addition to the more obvious impact it has had on national electoral politics, has been its use of the term “secular” and reinforcement of a religious/secular binary even as it transgresses that boundary, according to many self-consciously secularist critics. Some recent scholarship has shown how whiteness, evangelicalism, gender, and nationalism intersect, and how the religious right has contributed to the racial and gender politics of modern conservatism.66 A growing body of literature examines religious involvement in public progressive causes, from workers’ rights and LGBT rights to topics more commonly associated with religion, such as the modern civil rights movement.67

Few scholars of American religion have studied counterpublics as such, though many historical case studies could be so interpreted. A good deal of scholarship exists on what we could call African American counterpublics. In many ways, black churches and “the black church” are counterpublics, though so are the many African American religious communities that resist Christianity and the idea of the black church.68 In community spaces and public activism, LGBT Americans have formed religious counterpublics.69 Scholars from numerous disciplines have studied Native Americans, politics, and pluralism, including Native American political activism and the role of indigenous peoples in shaping religious freedom law.70 In Islam Is a Foreign Country (2013), Zareena Grewal studied the lives of student travelers who left the United States to study Islam and navigate and recreate Islamic networks and identities amid a “crisis of authority.” She refers to these subjects as a counterpublic, “a community of debating Muslims.”71

The literature on American secularism is vast and varied. Scholars have studied processes of secularization, by which they mean a decline in religious belief or attendance of religious services or both;72 atheist, freethinking, and secularist movements;73 the intellectual preconditions of belief or disbelief, or how belief and disbelief became options;74 church-state relations and overt religious and political separation and comingling;75 and strategies by which secular governments manage religions.76 Modern secularism is in many senses an effort to contend with religious diversity.77 Pluralism is one approach. Pluralists embrace and celebrate diversity and also promote interreligious engagement and understanding. Some scholars have studied the rise of pluralism as an ideology or political project, and many more have participated in pluralistic endeavors.78 Pluralism persists in policymaking and political circles, as well as in the academy. The Pluralism Project continues its public work, the American Academy of Religion maintains an interreligious and interfaith studies program unit, and many universities foster interfaith programs and centers. Other scholars have shown how pluralism and religious freedom are often exclusive of many religious groups and can support and advance imperialist policies.79

Further Reading

Bender, Courtney, and Pamela E. Klassen, eds. After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

    Cady, Linell E., and Tracy Fessenden, eds. Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

      Calhoun, Craig, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, eds. Rethinking Secularism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

        Casanova, José. Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.Find this resource:

          Curtis, Finbarr. The Production of American Religious Freedom. New York: New York University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

            Fessenden, Tracy. Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

              Hutchison, William R. Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

                Jakobsen, Janet R., and Ann Pellegrini. Secularisms. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                  Kahn, Jonathon S., and Vincent W. Lloyd. Race and Secularism in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

                    Orsi, Robert A. History and Presence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

                      Scott, Joan Wallach. Sex and Secularism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.Find this resource:

                        Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zone Books, 2002.Find this resource:


                          (1.) Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 20.

                          (2.) John Lardas Modern, Secularism in Antebellum America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 284.

                          (3.) See Donald S. Lopez Jr., “Belief,” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, ed. Mark C. Taylor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 21–35.

                          (4.) Robert A. Orsi, History and Presence (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016), makes a similar point with regard to the tropes of “absence” and “presence,” showing the Protestant preference for the former and the Catholic attachments of the latter.

                          (5.) See Robert A. Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1950, 3rd ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), originally published in 1985; Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); David D. Hall, ed., Lived Religion: Toward a History of Practice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997); and Elizabeth Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions (New York: New York University Press, 2016). On kitsch, see Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

                          (6.) James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990).

                          (7.) See Leslie Woodcock Tentler, Catholics and Contraception: An American History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004).

                          (8.) Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005). The case was Warner v. City of Boca Raton, 64 F. Supp. 2d 1272 (S.D. Fla 1999).

                          (9.) Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879), at 166.

                          (10.) John Rawls, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” University of Chicago Law Review 64, no. 3 (1997): 765–807. See Kent Greenawalt, Private Consciences and Public Reasons (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). On the public sphere, see Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), originally published in 1962; and Craig Calhoun, ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).

                          (11.) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (New York: Verso, 1983).

                          (12.) Tracy Fessenden, Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).

                          (13.) Barack Obama, “President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address,” Inaugural Address, the White House, Charles Macon blog, January 21, 2009.

                          (14.) Andrew Jackson, “Annual Message,” 1830.

                          (15.) United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 261 U.S. 204 (1923).

                          (16.) See Ozawa v. United States, 260 U.S. 178 (1922).

                          (17.) Gina Giliberti has noted how public sphere theorists and affect theorists “share little affection, tending to engage with each other’s work at the level of summary dismissal,” though she notes persuasively that this opposition is based on a false choice: “Surely we can decenter discursive rationality’s hold on public sphere theory without lionizing affect as an ontological escape?” See Giliberti, “Tainted Love,” The Immanent Frame, April 6, 2017. See also Zizi Papacharissi, Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology, and Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); and Ann Cvetkovich, Depressing: A Public Feeling (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); and the work of the collective Feel Tank on “political feelings” (

                          (18.) Finbarr Curtis, The Production of American Religious Freedom (New York: New York University Press, 2016), 72–73.

                          (19.) Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 132. Originally published in 2004.

                          (20.) See Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999). On religious others achieving whiteness, see W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); and, though direct analysis of race is less prominent, Kevin M. Schultz, Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

                          (21.) Ahmed, Cultural Politics of Emotion, 133.

                          (22.) See Sam Haselby, The Origins of American Religious Nationalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). See also Kelly J. Baker, Gospel according to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011), esp. 192–196, on the Ku Klux Klan’s way of tracing their own genealogy to Puritans and thus including dissenting Protestantism in the construction of American whiteness. On American religious counterpublics, see Zareena Grewal, Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority (New York: New York University Press, 2013). She writes, “Despite the incredible diversity of the religious perspectives and goals of American Muslim student-travelers, they do have a shared vocabulary . . . However, this shared vocabulary does not make them a movement so much as a counterpublic, a community of debating Muslims. Muslim American counterpublics are not restricted to physical structures such as a particular mosque or even to a particular denomination of Islam but are constituted by discursive relationships” (50–51).

                          (23.) R. Laurence Moore, Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). For a different view, see Megan Goodwin, “‘They Do That to Foreign Women’: Domestic Terrorism and Contraceptive Nationalism in Not without My Daughter,” Muslim World 106, no. 4 (2016): 759–780.

                          (24.) It is worth noting that significant cultural and economic changes affect people’s conceptions of the public, publicness, and national identity. In the case of 21st century pluralism, it is an open and worthwhile question what changes the erosion of the public sphere through privatization and the political rationality of neoliberalism have wrought and how they will continue to affect Americans’ religious identities and conceptions of religious freedom and secularism. On neoliberalism and the public, see Bonnie Honig, Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017); and Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone Books, 2015). The classical liberal idea of the “representative man” is an imagined figure who stands in for the (general) public writ large. In the 20th century, Americans began to use data and statistics to understand—or, more accurately, to produce—the general public, in ways that necessarily obscured difference in American lives. See Sarah E. Igo, The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

                          (25.) Craig Calhoun and Michael McQuarrie, “The Reluctant Counterpublic,” in Calhoun, The Roots of Radicalism: Tradition, the Public Sphere, and Early Nineteenth-Century Social Movements (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 152–180; and Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Social Text 25/26 (1990): 56–80, at 61. Fraser focuses especially on what she terms “subaltern counterpublics.”

                          (26.) See Robert Asen and Daniel C. Brouwer, eds., Counterpublics and the State (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), esp. Catherine Squires, “The Black Press and the State: Attracting Unwanted (?) Attention,” 111–136.

                          (27.) George Jacob Holyoake, The Principles of Secularism, 3rd rev. ed. (London: Austin and Co., 1870), 27. See also Modern, Secularism in Antebellum America, 283.

                          (28.) On the secularization of public schools, particularly the constitutionality of Bible reading, see Steven K. Green, The Bible, the School, and the Constitution: The Clash That Shaped Modern Church-State Doctrine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

                          (29.) See also James C. Turner, Without God, without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985); and Leigh Eric Schmidt, Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016).

                          (30.) Joseph Blankholm, “The Political Advantages of a Polysemous Secular,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 53, no. 2 (2014): 775–790; and Blankholm, “Secularism and Secular People,” Public Culture 30, no. 2 (May 2018).

                          (31.) Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963). O’Hair’s case was consolidated with Edward Schempp’s similar case. See Murray v. Curlett, 228 Md. 239 (Md. 1962). On resistance to atheism and church-state separation, and to O’Hair specifically, as a founding impetus for the religious right, see Benjamin Eric Sasse, “The Anti-Madalyn Majority: The Secular Left, Religious Right, and the Rise of Reagan’s America” (PhD diss., Yale University, 2004), esp. 44–203.

                          (32.) American Atheists website.

                          (33.) Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 2.

                          (34.) José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

                          (35.) See John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011). See also Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984). On popular narratives of secularization throughout American history, see Charles Mathewes and Christopher McKnight Nichols, eds., Prophecies of Godlessness: Predictions of America’s Imminent Secularization from the Puritans to the Present Day (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

                          (36.) For a history of these surveys as conducted by organizations such as the Pew Foundation, see Robert Wuthnow, Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation’s Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

                          (37.) Taylor, Secular Age, 3.

                          (38.) Holyoake, The Principles of Secularism, 11.

                          (39.) John Rawls, Political Liberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); Rawls, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” University of Chicago Law Review 64, no. 3 (1997): 765–807. See also Giorgi Areschidze, Democratic Religion from Locke to Obama: Faith and the Civic Life of Democracy (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2016).

                          (40.) Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World, 64. We can see this idea at work in a little dictum that was popular on the Internet around 2014: “Religion is like a penis. It’s fine to have one and it’s fine to be proud of it, but please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around . . . and PLEASE don’t try to shove it down my child’s throat.”

                          (41.) On the “Protestant secular,” see Charles McCrary and Jeffrey Wheatley, “The Protestant Secular in the Study of American Religion: Reappraisal and Suggestions,” Religion 47, no. 2 (2017): 256–276.

                          (42.) Janet R. Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini, Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance (New York: New York University Press, 2003), 3. “One of our fundamental concerns,” they continue, “is that promises of ‘freedom’ and ‘privacy’—promises supposedly made to every American by virtue of being a citizen—are actually held out as rewards, not rights, and only to those who belong to the right kind of family. What kind of freedom is this when enjoyment of it requires subjection to narrow, exclusionary, and even sectarian understandings of who and what constitute family? This social contract really contracts, limiting the possibilities of freedom for all Americans” (9).

                          (43.) Fessenden, Culture and Redemption; Elizabeth Fenton, Religious Liberties: Anti-Catholicism in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). As much of this literature shows, the ways that secularism naturalizes and leaves largely “unmarked” a sort of generic Protestantism that is often not recognized as religious are intimately linked with other processes and mechanisms that leave unmarked the white, male, cisgendered, able-bodied, and so on. These work as something like “default” categories, and “diversions” from them need to be marked and mentioned. See, especially, Tracy Fessenden and Linell E. Cady, eds., Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); and Jonathon S. Kahn and Vincent W. Lloyd, eds., Race and Secularism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016).

                          (44.) Vincent W. Lloyd, introduction, to Kahn and Lloyd, Race and Secularism in America.

                          (45.) Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940) incorporated the Free Exercise Clause, and Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) incorporated the Establishment Clause. See Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). Jehovah’s Witnesses were pioneers in religious freedom and involved in many pivotal cases in the 1930s and 1940s. See Shawn Francis Peters, Judging Jehovah’s Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2000).

                          (46.) Isaac Weiner, Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism (New York: New York University Press, 2014).

                          (47.) Robert N. Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” Daedalus 96, no. 1 (1967): 1–21.

                          (48.) See also Diana Eck, A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2001). Lucia Hulsether has made a pointed and important critique of these types of programs, specifically at Harvard Divinity School in the 1960s and 1970s, showing how religious diversity and the promotion of interreligious dialogue displaces antiracist work and critical engagement with race. See Lucia Hulsether, “The Grammar of Racism: Religious Pluralism and the Birth of the Interdisciplines,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (November 6, 2017). Tisa Wenger has shown how “religious freedom talk,” a key component of pluralism, similarly works as a project of whiteness. See Wenger, Religious Freedom: The Contested History of an American Ideal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017). Wenger uses the Deleuzian concept of “assemblages,” drawing specifically from Alexander G. Weheliye’s analysis of “racializing assemblages.” See Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

                          (49.) Diana Eck, “What Is Pluralism?” The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, 2006.

                          (50.) For a more critical perspective on tolerance discourse, see Wendy Brown, Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).

                          (51.) Will Herberg, Protestant-Catholic-Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), originally published in 1955

                          (52.) George W. Bush, “‘Islam Is Peace’ Says the President: Remarks by the President at Islamic Center of Washington, D.C.,” press release, Office of the Press Secretary, September 17, 2001.

                          (53.) See Michael Schulson, “Why Do So Many Americans Believe That Islam Is a Political Ideology, Not a Religion?,” Washington Post, February 3, 2017.

                          (54.) See, e.g., the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, created during Bush’s presidency and renamed by President Obama (it was originally called the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives). In terms of foreign policy, see the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom and the independent US Commission for International Religious Freedom, both of which were created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.

                          (55.) See Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, The Politics of Secularism in International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); Hurd, Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015); Anna Su, Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016); and Samuel Moyn, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).

                          (56.) See Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, “Religion Naturalized: The New Establishment,” in After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 82–97; and Sullivan, A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

                          (57.) United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, at 173.

                          (58.) Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).

                          (59.) John D. Inazu, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 6.

                          (60.) Andrew Shryock, “Introduction: Islam as an Object of Fear and Affection,” in Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend, ed. Andrew Shryock (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), 9. See also Rosemary R. Corbett, Making Moderate Islam: Sufism, Service, and the “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016).

                          (61.) Joan Wallach Scott, Sex and Secularism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018), 24.

                          (62.) See Rosemary R. Corbett, “Moderation in American Religion,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, May 2017.

                          (63.) Josef Sorett, “Secular Compared to What? Toward a History of the Trope of Black Sacred/Secular Fluidity,” in Race and Secularism in America, 52. See also Charles McCrary, “Superstitious Subjects: US Religion, Race, and Freedom,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 30 (2018): 56–70.

                          (64.) Bellah, “Civil Religion in America”; Raymond Haberski Jr., God and War: American Civil Religion since 1945 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012); Peter Gardella, American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); John D. Wilsey, American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015); and Philip Gorski, American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017). On multiple regional civil religions, see Arthur Remillard, Southern Civil Religions: Imagining the Good Society in the Post-Reconstruction Era (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011). On civil religion’s limits, see Elaine Peña, “More Than a Dead American Hero: Washington, the Improved Order of Red Men, and the Limits of Civil Religion,” American Literary History 26, no. 1 (2014): 61–82.

                          (65.) On the making and rise of the Christian religious right, see, e.g., J. Brooks Flippen, Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011); Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); and Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015). For a (somewhat) alternative rendering of the religious right’s origins that traces them in part to Christian Reconstructionists, who have a different but nevertheless influential understanding of the relationship between the religious private and the political secular, see Julie J. Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); and Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

                          (66.) Matthew D. Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); Robert C. Smith, Conservatism and Racism, and Why in America They Are the Same (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010); Michelle M. Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012); and Seth Dowland, Family Values and the Rise of the Christian Right (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).

                          (67.) Christopher D. Cantwell, Heath W. Carter, and Janine Giordano Drake, eds., The Pew and the Picket Line: Christianity and the American Working Class (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016); Heath W. Carter, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Amy L. Koehlinger, The New Nuns: Racial Justice and Religious Reform in the 1960s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007); Aldon Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change (New York: Free Press, 1984); David Chapell, A Stone of Hope: Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Stephen Haynes, The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Carolyn Dupont, Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2014).

                          (68.) Eddie Glaude, Exodus! Religion, Race, and Nation in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000); Lerone A. Martin, Preaching on Wax: The Phonograph and the Shaping of Modern African American Religion (New York: New York University Press, 2014). On alternative African American religious communities, see Arthur Huff Fauset, Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970), originally published in 1944; Jacob Dorman, Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Judith Weisenfeld, New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (New York: New York University Press, 2017). See also Edward E. Curtis IV and Danielle Brune Sigler, eds., The New Black Gods: Arthur Huff Fauset and the Study of American Religions (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009). Emily Suzanne Clark, A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016) does call the Cercle Harmonique, a group of Afro-Creole spiritualists, a counterpublic (193n10). On the idea of the black church and the study of black religion, see Curtis J. Evans, The Burden of Black Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

                          (69.) Heather Rachelle White, Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015); Anthony Petro, After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); and Melissa M. Wilcox, Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody (New York: New York University Press, 2018).

                          (70.) Greg Johnson, Sacred Claims: Repatriation and Living Tradition (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007); Andrea Smith, Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008); Gregory Smoak, Ghost Dances and Identity: Prophetic Religion and American Indian Ethnogenesis in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008); Tisa Wenger, We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); and Nicolas Howe, Landscapes of the Secular: Law, Religion, and American Sacred Space (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). On Native Hawaiian religions, resistance, and the politics of public space, see Noenoe K. Silva, Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004); Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwol‘ole Osorio, Dismembering Lāhui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2002); and Sally M. Promey, “Material Establishment and Public Display,” meditation, in Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (2016). See also the series on “Indigeneity and Secularity,” co-curated by Mayanthi Fernando and Vincent Lloyd, on The Immanent Frame. For specific Supreme Court cases, see, e.g., Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, 485 U.S. 439 (1988); Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990); and Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006). For congressional legislation, see the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Public Law No. 95–341, 92 Stat. 469 (Aug. 11, 1978) and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Public Law 101-601; 25 U.S.C. 3001–3013 (November 16, 1990).

                          (71.) Zareena Grewal, Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority (New York: New York University Press, 2014), 51.

                          (72.) William J. Swatos Jr., ed., “The Secularization Debate,” special issue, Sociology of Religion 60, no. 3 (1999): 209–339.

                          (73.) Turner, Without God, Without Creed; and Schmidt, Village Atheists.

                          (74.) Modern, Secularism in Antebellum America; and Gregory, Unintended Reformation.

                          (75.) David Sehat, The Myth of American Religious Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); and Philip Hamburger, Separation of Church and State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).

                          (76.) Trevor Stack, Naomi R. Goldenberg, and Timothy Fitzgerald, eds., Religion as a Category of Governance and Sovereignty (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015).

                          (77.) See Mayanthi L. Fernando, The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

                          (78.) Some scholarship on pluralism is closely related to “religious liberalism.” See, e.g., Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith since World War II (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988); Robert Wuthnow, After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); Amanda Porterfield, The Transformation of American Religion: The Story of a Late-Twentieth-Century Awakening (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Leigh Eric Schmidt, Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2005); Courtney Bender, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010); Kathryn Lofton, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011); and Leigh E. Schmidt and Sally M. Promey, eds., American Religious Liberalism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012).

                          (79.) Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Saba Mahmood, and Peter G. Danchin, Politics of Religious Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Hurd, Beyond Religious Freedom; Su, Exporting Religious Liberty; Curtis, Production of Religious Freedom; Wenger, Religious Freedom; and Hulsether, “Grammar of Racism.”