Peace or War? Religion in the Debate Before the Iraq War

Doctoral Dissertation


In this dissertation, I analyze religious actors debating the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 as well as the religious cultural dimensions of the larger public discussion. I argue that one cannot adequately explain the country’s entry into the war without understanding the role of public Christianity in the argument for it. Furthermore, by analyzing elite religious advocacy both opposed and in favor of the conflict, I theorize the sets of identity relations and cultural repertoires that explain whether religious advocates will support or criticize state-sponsored violence. I find that the varying identity relations between religion, nation, and state largely predict religious advocates’ positions on the war. Given these basic religious positions, I then explicate the constellation of symbolic codes that inform and sustain the basic positions of religious advocates vis-ÌÊ-vis war. These include the nature and constitution of political order, the nature of evil, the role of peace’ particularly as it relates to the political order, the proper object of Christian love, and the value and practicality of nonviolence in the world. Additionally, I analyze patterns of discourse that differentiated between war supporters and war opponents’ war supporters used less secular discourse than war opponents. I find that the social and political context primarily explains the particularly religious tenor of these actors. Advocates’ sense of identity and their expertise influenced how they participated in the debate. Finally, I find the social sources of these distinct positions. Significant social contact with victims of structural violence tended to lead advocates to positions against the war. The dissertation concludes with a consideration of the direct contributions of this dissertation to academic understandings of religion, politics, war, and peace as well as its contributions to knowledge about public religion’s relations to the politics of war and peace in America and our understanding of the relations between religion and violence.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-02032012-111754

Author Christopher A. Morrissey
Advisor Mary Ellen Konieczny
Contributor Lyn Spillman, Committee Member
Contributor Robert Fishman, Committee Member
Contributor Mary Ellen Konieczny, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Christian Smith, Committee Co-Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Sociology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Defense Date
  • 2011-12-13

Submission Date 2012-02-03
  • United States of America

  • religion

  • American politics

  • war

  • discourse

  • peace

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units

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