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Title page for ETD etd-03262011-205801

Type of Document Dissertation
Author McCullough, Matthew
URN etd-03262011-205801
Title "My Brother's Keeper": Civil Religion, Messianic Interventionism, and the Spanish-American War of 1898
Degree PhD
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
James Byrd Committee Chair
Dennis Dickerson Committee Member
Gary Gerstle Committee Member
James Hudnut-Beumler Committee Member
Kathleen Flake Committee Member
  • nationalism
  • religion
  • Spanish-American War
  • american christianity
  • civil religion
Date of Defense 2011-03-23
Availability unrestricted
This is a study of wartime civil religion within American Christianity. I focus on a specific ideological manifestation of civil religion I call messianic interventionism--the belief that America can and should intervene altruistically on behalf of other nations. I argue that its emergence and codification was inextricable from the distinctive features of the Spanish-American War context. This war marked America’s dramatic emergence as an active world power, setting the stage for the foreign policy of the next one hundred years. It began for America in the midst of widespread humanitarian outrage over the abuses of the Spanish imperial government. When it ended, America stood in possession of its own de facto empire, sole ruler of a network of far-flung islands and millions of unfamiliar people. Along the way, Christian ministers sought to explain the meaning of events that caught most everyone by surprise, to trace the hand of God in a victory more painless and complete than anyone could have imagined, and to justify the new departure in American foreign policy as a divine calling. America, by their reckoning, held a responsibility under God to extend American freedoms to those unable to free themselves, and to do this by force if necessary. With remarkable sameness across regional and denominational lines, their rhetoric exposed an ideology that justified this new sense of national purpose in three ways. It explained why America should take up the cross on behalf of the weak and the oppressed. It explained why America could interfere in the affairs of other nations without incurring the guilt of self-interest condemned in the record of Europe's colonial powers. And, invoking evidence of providential favor, it explained why American efforts would inevitably succeed. So bolstered, messianic interventionism proved able to survive the tragic ironies of the Filipino insurgency, and lived on to inspire American intervention in the Great War twenty years later.

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