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Christianity and American Democracy

Christianity and American Democracy

Hugh Heclo

ISBN 9780674032309

Publication date: 03/31/2009

Christianity, not religion in general, has been important for American democracy. With this bold thesis, Hugh Heclo offers a panoramic view of how Christianity and democracy have shaped each other.

Heclo shows that amid deeply felt religious differences, a Protestant colonial society gradually convinced itself of the truly Christian reasons for, as well as the enlightened political advantages of, religious liberty. By the mid-twentieth century, American democracy and Christianity appeared locked in a mutual embrace. But it was a problematic union vulnerable to fundamental challenge in the Sixties. Despite the subsequent rise of the religious right and glib talk of a conservative Republican theocracy, Heclo sees a longer-term, reciprocal estrangement between Christianity and American democracy.

Responding to his challenging argument, Mary Jo Bane, Michael Kazin, and Alan Wolfe criticize, qualify, and amend it. Heclo’s rejoinder suggests why both secularists and Christians should worry about a coming rupture between the Christian and democratic faiths. The result is a lively debate about a momentous tension in American public life.


  • In this compelling volume, Hugh Heclo is exceedingly precise on what he takes Christianity and democracy to mean; on what Alexis de Tocqueville thought about the two; and on why he feels the successful American confluence of Christianity and democracy has been under grave threat since the 1960s. The admirable precision of Heclo's argument elicits, in turn, admirably precise rejoinders from three distinguished scholars. The result is a very fine book on a very important subject.

    —Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame, author of The Civil War as a Theological Crisis


  • Hugh Heclo is Robinson Professor of Public Affairs, George Mason University.
  • Theda Skocpol is Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. Her previous works include the prize-winning States and Social Revolutions.

Book Details

  • 312 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press
  • Foreword by Theda Skocpol