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Religion, identity and American power in the age of Obama


US foreign policy owes much to a malleable religious identity, shaped by foundational myths, and that this religious dimension has, until recently, been largely neglected in the US foreign policy literature to the detriment of our understanding of how America's status as global hegemon is formed, sustained and expanded. This article explores the role of the foundational myths of manifest destiny, exceptionalism and innocent nation. These foundational myths are explored as they develop into a civil religion espoused by successive presidents from George Washington to the present day. The article considers how Barack Obama has utilised civil religion to maximise domestic support for a foreign policy agenda, which seeks to maintain US hegemony through a more conciliatory and multilateral approach than his predecessor in the White House. Examples of the use of soft power through missionary endeavour and the evangelicalisation of military hard power beginning during the George W. Bush presidency are detailed in order to reveal an Obama presidency that continues to define itself in religious terms while providing opportunities for religious actors to continue to play a role in representing US interests beyond its shores.

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  1. A copy of the video was posted on YouTube,, accessed 21 December 2006; the video keeps being taken down and resubmitted. Information is also available from ‘Questionable Mission: A Christian Embassy campaign at the Pentagon test constitutional boundaries’, The Washington Post, 6 January 2007. See also Chris Hedges, ‘America's Holy Warriors’,, accessed 16 February 2007.

  2. ‘US army “does not promote religion”’, Al Jazeera,, accessed 6 May 2009.


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Marsden, L. Religion, identity and American power in the age of Obama. Int Polit 48, 326–343 (2011).

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