Religion and National Identity Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1601 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion


The Role of Religion in the Formation of National Identity

How does religion play a role in national identity in at least 3 cases? Consider history and culture. Of what utility is the role of religion in national identity construction in the chosen 3 cases?

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Many forces contribute to the formation of what is called "national identity." Among the most powerful of these forces is religion, as few other ideas affect so many and varied aspects of an individual's life. Where religion is most powerful, it can literally help to bind together a people as a nation. In this case, the faith of one's fellow citizens is seen as that "special something" that sets one's people apart - perhaps from one's oppressors. Many times during the course of history, religion has served as the rallying cry of a subject people against their overlords. Though persecuted, the adherents of one religion may cling even more tenaciously to the tenets of their belief, for in this perseverance against seemingly impossible odds, the greatest virtues are brought forward. Through terrible travail, a people learns the lessons of unity, mutual aid, and devotion. A national consciousness is brought into being, and the followers of that faith, come to believe themselves specially blessed by the divine powers; selected for some special purpose, and ultimately preserved against all enemies. Religion has played these roles in many countries and at different times in history, all over the globe. We shall examine three specific cases, those of the Republic of Ireland, the Kingdom of Spain, and the State of Israel. In so doing, we shall also been exploring the affects of two different religion - Christianity and Judaism, and also these religions' differing expressions through time.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Religion and National Identity Assignment

Ireland is the classic example of a subject people using religion to create a sense of national identity, while at the same time using this religious faith as an instrument against their oppressors. From the Twelfth Century until the Twentieth Ireland remained under some form of English control. In Medieval times, this control was, for the most part, nominal - the native Gaelic princes controlled much of the country, and England was able to interfere only marginally in the lives of most Irish men and women. However, two great changes occurred during the course of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. During the first of these periods, the King of England changed his people's faith from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism, while at the end of the second period these English Protestants were at long last able to establish firm, and effective, control over all of Ireland. At the same time, the Irish people remained staunchly Catholic. In fact being a Roman Catholic came to be synonymous with being a good, and true, Irishman. Despite English laws that gave Roman Catholics few rights, gave away much of their land, and denied them a voice in their own government, patriotic Irishmen clung to their traditional faith. Eventually this was to bear fruit when, in the Nineteenth Century this Catholic Faith was used as one of the mainsprings in a powerful Irish Nationalist movement that led, in the early years of the next century, to independence for much of the Island.

In a similar way, the Spanish people employed their Roman Catholic Faith as a weapon against the Islamic conquerors of their country - the Moors. In the Eighth Century, Moorish invaders from Africa swept across most of Spain, leaving as independent only a small and weak Christian kingdom. Nevertheless, these Christians persevered and eventually grew so strong that they reclaimed their entire country from the Muslims. By this time, Catholicism had become so much a part of the Spanish soul that any deviation from Roman Catholic Orthodoxy was seen as a threat to the nation and its people. Turning the situation on its head, the Kings of Spain instituted the notorious Spanish Inquisition, and viciously persecuted Muslims, Jews, and all those Spanish Christians who refused to follow absolutely the precepts of the Spanish Church. In Spain, therefore, a single faith became both a symbol of strength, and of horror.

For centuries, the Jews were persecuted not only in Spain - where they were not even permitted to exist - but throughout Christian Europe. Yet, the Jewish people remained fervent in their Faith, and held fast to their ancient traditions - to all those things that made the Jews a distinct, and proud, people. And all through this very long historical time, the Jews hoped one day to return to their ancestral homeland, and once again emerge as an independent people with their own state; a state where Jews would be forever free to live and practice their religion without fear of persecution. Their chance came in 1948, when the British Empire granted freedom to Palestine, as the new and independent Jewish State of Israel. The government of Israel passed laws that allowed any Jew, anywhere in the World to return to Israel, and to enjoy immediately the citizenship of their country. Yet here too, unfortunately, religion became sometimes an instrument of repression, as the situation developed that still exists today in which, the Palestinian Muslims - inhabitants of Israel through much of this historical period - believe themselves to have been driven out of their and deprived of their rights. Once again it appears that freedom and oppression can be two sides of the same coin.

2) Does pluralism and religious competition strengthen or weaken religious activity in the public sphere? How? Consider 3 examples to illustrate this phenomenon?

As shown above, religion can be at one and the same time a force that brings people together, and one that divides them and creates mutual enmity and distrust. In the United States, one's choice of religious faith has typically been left up to the individual. There is no state religion. In fact, religious freedom and Separation of Church and State are considered cardinal tenets of the American Republic. Nevertheless, a majority of Americans are members of one or another of the Protestant denominations, with a large minority being Roman Catholic, and small minorities adhering to Judaism, Islam, and other faiths. As a result, much of American law and custom is shaped by these facts. Religious holidays are often celebrated publicly, but they cannot be officially endorsed by the government. This has been a source of contention between those who believe that religion should be an integral part of every one of life's activities, and those who feel that religion is, and should remain, a very personal, and very private, affair. In particular, since the beginning of George W. Bush's presidency, this has become an extremely hot issue among Americans of all walks of life.

Since the vast majority of Americans are Christians, it has always been relatively easy to hold great public parades that celebrate Christmas or Easter, or other popular Christian holidays. Especially at Christmas time, one sees the images of that festival in every conceivable place. There are Santa Clauses on television, and in department stores, an don street corners. There are Christmas trees on public streets, and schools have grab bags where children exchange holiday gifts. However, certain "signs of the season" are not so readily accepted by all. Since most Americans do not appear to consider Santa Claus, Christmas Trees, and the simple exchanging of gifts to be genuine expression of religion, public displays relating to these aspects of Christmas are normally accepted without question. Much of this comes from the fact that for the past several generations, these attributes of the Christmas Holiday have come to be viewed preeminently as marks of the commercialization of that day and season. Christmas is touted as just a major part of the general "holiday season" a time of the year that includes… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Religion and National Identity.  (2004, December 3).  Retrieved September 21, 2021, from

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"Religion and National Identity."  3 December 2004.  Web.  21 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Religion and National Identity."  December 3, 2004.  Accessed September 21, 2021.