UCL Institute of the Americas


Will Ranger

'Society, Patriotism and American Civil Religion: A Contribution to the History of Mentalities'


Dr Nick Witham (first supervisor), Professor Gareth Davies (second supervisor)

My PhD research considers the role of American civil religion in US social and political life, with a particular emphasis on how American citizens articulate patriotism in their rhetoric and behaviour. American civil religion has been a framing device used to describe US nationalist/patriotic activities since a seminal essay by sociologist Robert Bellah in 1967. Arguing that American patriotism functioned in a similar way to organised religion, Bellah’s work continues to shape how scholars regard  popular symbolism, historical collective memory, and the components of American identity.

Drawing on this understanding, my project aims to consider how American civil religion recast itself between the 1950s and the mid-1970s. I will be specifically studying how patriotism shifted in the years running up to the 1976 American Revolution Bicentennial. This project aims to reconstruct a history of the United States that focuses on how ordinary Americans understood patriotism, how they came to question their own perceptions of America, and what state-sponsored patriotic rituals reveal about the fragility, or indeed durability, of American civil religion.

My research is grounded in the Annales School, especially the histoire de mentalités approach, as well as other social history methodologies. I also consider analytical approaches from historical sociology and the sociology of religion with the aim of building a more unified research toolbox for studies of civil religion.



  • Will Ranger, Jamie Ranger, 'Toward a Resonant Theory of Memory Politics', Memory Studies 16.2 (forthcoming, 2023)