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Friday, February 17, 2012

Just in Time for President's Day: The Faith of US Presidents

Here's a fascinating podcast from Research on Religion about the faith of U.S. Presidents ("Gary Scott on Presidential Faith"). This interview with Professor Gary S. Smith (author of the 2006 book, "Faith and the Presidency From George Washington to George W. Bush") looks at the faiths of several U.S. Presidents, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Here's a description of the podcast from the Research on Religion website:
A week before Presidents’ Day, we visit with the chair of the Department of History at Grove City College, Prof. Gary Scott Smith to survey the faith of various presidents in US history. Our discussion opens with some thoughts as to why it is important to understand the religious underpinnings of the occupants of the White House. Professor Smith then reveals who he considers both our most and least religious presidents. Our coverage of individual presidents proceeds slightly out of chronological order as we first dip into the interesting spiritual background of Dwight Eisenhower and how his beliefs reflected the nature of the 1950s. We then step back in time to discuss Thomas Jefferson and the controversies surrounding his theological leanings. Prof. Smith offers up his perspective on Jefferson’s famous “wall of separation” quote. We then cover George Washington and Abraham Lincoln before moving into the 20th century. Whilst in the 20th century, our survey of presidents encompasses the beliefs and practices of Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. We briefly make reference to Richard Nixon before moving to our two most recent presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Finally, Gary offers up some thoughts on whether or not Mormonism will become an issue for Mitt Romney should he secure the nomination of the Republican Party in the 2012 elections. At the very end of the interview, Tony professes ignorance about much of what was discussed and wonders why he is so lacking in knowledge. Prof. Smith provides us a few thoughts about the state of historical education as pertains to the faith of our presidents.
You may be surprised to hear whom Smith thinks was the least devout President he discusses (hint: it isn't Thomas Jefferson) as well as the surprising faith and practices of Presidents who are not generally thought of as being religious. If you have the time, it's worth a listen. I suspect that Smith's book is a good read as well (it explores the faith of eleven Presidents; Smith is currently working on a sequel, so to speak).

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