Civil Religion Aspects of Neo-Paganism


  • Michael York Bath Spa University



Civil Religion, contemporary paganism


Robert Bellah’s concept of civil religion is largely an analytical concept that, like the notion of secularization, is more tautological than empirical—defying in general what evidence could be legitimately used to confirm or disconfirm it. As a sociological construct, however, “civil religion” is nevertheless deemed a useful heuristic device. The following analysis builds on the data of Wimberley and Swatos concerning who is likely to support American civil religion and who is not, but this is not an empirical study in and of itself. Instead, what I have sought to tease out are, first, the common denominator language of “civil religion” itself and its current renewal, secondly, where Pagans fit with the Wimberley–Swatos findings concerning the construct, and, thirdly, some of the nuances and difficulties regarding Pagan civil religion involvement—especially in the post-9/11 increase in patriotic fervor and the countervailing trend expressed through the separation of church–state juridical decisions involving the “under God” clause in the Pledge of Allegiance. The article concludes with a brief look at how nature religion/Goddess spirituality might constitute a Pagan form of civil religion in contrast to Pagan sectarian expression. Though not exclusively, this article draws from conversation on the Nature Religions List, which, if not fully representative of all facets of contemporary Paganism, represents some of the best of current intellectual Pagan thought and, at the same time, a diversified range between conservative right and liberal left orientations.

Author Biography

  • Michael York, Bath Spa University

    Michael York directs the Sophia Centre for Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at Bath Spa University College. His books include The Emerging Network: A Sociology of the New Age and Neo-Pagan Movements (Rowman & Littlefield, 1995), and Pagan Theology (New York University Press, 2002).


Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

Albanese, Catherine L. Nature Religion in America from the Algonkian Indians to the New Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

---America: Religions and Religion. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1992.

Bellah, Robert N. 'Civil Religion in America.' Daedalus 96 (1967): 1-21.

Swatos, William H., Jr. 'God Bless America: Crisis and Renewal of Civil Religion.' Paper delivered to the Association for the Sociology of Religion/Religious Research Association Meeting, 2002.

---'Post-9/11 American Civil Religion.' Talk delivered to the World View Society, Bath Spa University College (10 February 2003).

Wimberley, Ronald C., and William H. Swatos, Jr. 'Civil Religion.' In Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, edited by William H. Swatos, Jr., 94-96. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira, 1998.

York, Michael. 'The Nature and Culture Debate in Popular Forms of Emergent Spirituality in America.' In From Virgin Land to Disney World: Nature and its Discontents in the USA of Yesterday and Today, edited by Bernd Herzogenrath, 277-96. Critical Studies, 15. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001.






How to Cite

York, M. (2007). Civil Religion Aspects of Neo-Paganism. Pomegranate, 6(2), 253-260.