The Uses of Religious Freedom

Leithart | 2/9/2018 | Staff
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Tisa Wenger Religious Freedom recounts what her subtitle calls the “contested history of an American ideal,” focusing on the period between the Spanish-American War and World War II. She doesn’t look at the theorizing of religious freedom, or court decisions. Instead, she’s interested in the way religious freedom worked in public discourse – who appealed to it and to what ends.

Religious freedom was one dimension of an “assemblage” of concepts, institutions and practices, and appeals to religious freedom implied the entire assemblage. Religious freedom was modern, in opposition to medieval religious oppression. Religious freedom was Protestant, and American.

Freedom - Marker - Confessor - Side - History

Confessing religious freedom was a marker that the confessor was a true American, enlightened, on the right side of history. American Catholics adopted the rhetoric of religious freedom to prove their American bona fides. Religious freedom became a justification for American imperialism: America had to intervene in the Philippines to liberate Filipinos from the dark oppressions of Catholicism.

Race plays into the assemblage as well. Whites are classified as moderns who know how to rightly divide religion and politics; primitive races adhere to outmoded...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Leithart
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