Steven K. Green is the Fred H. Paulus Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Religion, Law, and Democracy at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. This interview is based on his new book, Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding (Oxford University Press, July 2015)
JF: What led you to write Inventing a Christian America?
SG: In that I believe the evidence supports essentially a secular founding, I wanted to explore how and why the idea of America’s Christian founding came about. I also wanted to explore the role that narrative played in the construction of a national identity, one that persists to this day.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Inventing a Christian America?
SG: I argue that idea of the nation’s Christian founding is essentially a national identity myth, constructed by the generations immediately following the constitutional era in an effort to sanctify the founding and give meaning to their hopes and aspirations for the nation’s future. As a result, we need to understand the purposeful origins and limitations of the idea of the nation’s Christian origins.
JF: Why do we need to read Inventing a Christian America?
SG: Inventing a Christian America seeks to put the Christian nation argument in a historical context, to caution participants about accepting historical evidence containing religious rhetoric at face value.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
SG: Although I considered it in undergraduate school, I did not decide to go to graduate school until I had been practicing law for a few years. I have always been fascinated with the intersection of law, religion, politics and history. I have been fortunate to participate as an advocate on church-state issues, but my true interest is to teach and write in the area from a historical perspective.
JF: What is your next project?
SG: I am at work on a legal and cultural history of the crucial years of modern church-state development (1940s-1960s), tentatively titled: “The Third Disestablishment: Church, State, and American Culture, 1945-1970.”
JF: Thanks, Steven!