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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

The Bible in American Political Discourse, 1960-2016


The Bible has played a foundational role in the construction of American identity and public discourse. This year’s graduate symposium, led by Boisi Center graduate research assistant Tom Fraatz, explored some touchstone debates of the last fifty years. 

These included: Ronald Reagan’s nuclear apocalypticism, the end of the Cold War, and American support of Israel; the Civil Rights Movement through the works of Abraham Heschel, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bob Jones; the public display of the Ten Commandments and competing claims about their importance for the American legal tradition; the attacks of September 11 as divine retribution for American sin, represented by the infamous statements from Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and Jeremiah Wright’s sermon; and debates over same-sex marriage, the legality of California’s Proposition 8, and LGBTQ issues in the Bible. 

The discussions focused on six questions: What are the author’s historical circumstances? Why are they writing? How do they use the Bible? What assumptions do they make about the Bible? How persuasive are the author’s points? What lessons for today can we take from these readings?