Civil Religion and "Staircase Wit"

Time spent writing: 3 hours
What I did: Intro for Gods, Games, and Globalization
Grade for the day: C

Just like Big Words, dropping a French phrase here and there will make you look smarter. Try it. Raison d'ĂȘtre is pretty entry level.
I know this is counter-intuitive, but it's the fries at Five Guys Burgers and Fries that is their raison d'ĂȘtre.
Then, sit back and watch everyone be impressed--both with the analysis AND your mastery of the French language.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I now have a new Frenchy phrase: l'esprit d'escalier or "staircase wit." It's that thing that happens when you come up with the PERFECT response... after the fact, or on the staircase. See: Jerk Store.


Lately, I feel like I have been walking down a really long staircase.

Last week, I went to Indianapolis. My friends Ray Haberski and Phil Goff invited me and others out to the city to talk about civil religion. The discussion was, to say the least, spirited and productive.

But I have my angle on the topic, one that I have developed for well over a decade. Long story short, I think that the category of civil religion requires a complete overhaul, beginning with where most people begin the conversation. Whenever you see a mention of the term civil religion, it's only a matter of time before you see a reference to an article written in 1967 by the sociologist Robert Bellah.

And when that happens, a little part of me dies.

So I spent a good bit of my time in Indianapolis making my case. All of my writing and thinking about this topic has left me with a nice storehouse of material. I have a book--a book that you should read or at least buy for your friends. Nothing says "I love you" like Southern Civil Religions. But there are also articles, encyclopedia entries, and assorted blogs. A little while ago, I wrote about the civil religious discourses swirling around the Kaepernick protests. I was SOOOO proud of myself for not inserting the otherwise obligatory reference to That Sociologist. IT CAN BE DONE!

But Robert Bellah and the idea of civil religion share a tight bond. And as the conversation continued, I came to realize that no matter what I said (or how impeccable, precise, and convincing my reasoning is), that bond wouldn't be weakening through the force of my arguments.

And the arguments continued in my brain for the


And during my run on Sunday morning. And now...

So, yea, it's a long staircase.


  1. I know how you feel. No matter how much great writing there is about civil religion, the world seems never to get past Bellah and asking whether it is real.


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