Barry Hankins On America’s Perfect Civil Religion Holiday

Last week, I asked my historian colleagues to opine about what the public should know about Thanksgiving. I am pleased and thankful for the responses I received and the series will run through at least Thanksgiving Day. Today, Barry Hankins reflects on America’s perfect civil religion holiday.

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Barry Hankins is Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of History and Resident Scholar, Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.

Christians can celebrate Thanksgiving by infusing it with all kinds of religious and national significance.  But, people of other faiths and of no faith at all can celebrate the holiday equally.  Christians have no corner on being thankful.  Moreover, Thanksgiving has an advantage in this respect over Christmas and Easter.  Although those holidays, especially Christmas, are commercialized and secularized to a large extent, they are still specifically Christian.  In fact, they are the two central events of the Christian liturgical calendar, which means that to celebrate them commercially non-Christians have to ignore their potent religious meaning.  Not so for Thanksgiving, which commemorates a national event, not a religious event.  So, Thanksgiving is what I call “America’s perfect civil religion holiday.”

To read all articles in this series, click Thanksgiving 2014.

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