Political shibboleths: a study of religious rhetorical forms in the contemporary american presidency
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From Jimmy Carter’s self-identification as a “born again Christian” in the 1976 presidential campaign to George W. Bush’s declaration of “Christ” as his favorite political philosopher “because he changed my heart” in a Republican primary debate of the 2000 campaign, presidential speeches and campaigns are often laced with religious language. Such an observation is nothing new. However, many scholars and political observers do not know what to make of such religious references. Such language is often dismissed as either shameless pandering to religious constituencies or something hopelessly out of place in American politics. This dissertation attempts a deeper analysis of this controversial subject by identifying how presidents use the rhetorical resources of religion by employing religious argument patterns stemming from the Jewish and Christian religious traditions in presidential speeches. Specifically, this dissertation explores how the last five presidents (Jimmy Carter through George W. Bush) have used such religious rhetorical forms in attempts to strike a symbolic chord within the larger American public. The religious rhetorical forms explored herein, if employed judiciously, can serve as political shibboleths—or passwords—which indicate a basic level of identification with the public thanks to the basic elements, such as transformation, atonement, and renewal, which comprise the mythical core of these forms.
Bailey, David C. (2008). Political shibboleths: a study of religious rhetorical forms in the contemporary american presidency. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from