The Dissonance of "Civil" Religion in Religious-Political Memetic Discourse During the 2016 Presidential Elections Academic Article uri icon


  • This article explores the interrelationship between religion and politics as presented through memetic discourse surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Based on a study of 150 Internet memes of political candidates and core issues framed by religious discourse, and a case study of memes focused on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, we investigated the distinct understanding of what constitutes religion that arises. Overwhelmingly, these memes evoke what is known as Civil Religion, where religion becomes a tool to interpret politics, with roots in nationalist ideologies. This challenges previous research suggesting religious memetic discourse primarily promotes a view of lived religion, or personalized interpretations of traditional religious beliefs and practices. Drawing on previous research of the dominant genres of religious memes and ways they frame religion, we find religious-political memes enact distinct strategies of political God Talk where religious discourse is read through a political lens, and vice versa. This is highly problematic as it presents religion in broad brushstrokes that fail to acknowledge the diversity of religious communities and their responses to politics within American cultural discourse. Overall, we argue religious-political memes showcase the dissonance created by mixing religion and politics in public discourse online, especially when meme messages representing conservative Christianity suggest they speak for all of American religious culture.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Campbell, H. A., Arredondo, K., Dundas, K., & Wolf, C.

citation count

  • 5

complete list of authors

  • Campbell, Heidi A||Arredondo, Katherine||Dundas, Katie||Wolf, Cody

publication date

  • January 2018