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UCR Lecture on UCTV

UCTV to Air UCR Lecture on Religion and Politics

Religious studies professor Ivan Strenski says the U.S. debate about the relationship of politics and religion is on the wrong course.

(August 3, 2009)

Ivan Strenski

Ivan Strenski

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The debate about the relationship of politics and religion in the United States is set on the wrong course, Ivan Strenski, distinguished professor of religious studies and Holstein Endowed Chairholder at the University of California, Riverside, says in a lecture that will air on UCTV in August.

“The Christian Right has simply been looking in the wrong places for evidence of the importance of religion in the American founding,” he says. “It is not to core Christian beliefs that we should look to understand the transcendent values founding our nation. It is to historically accidental facts about Latin Christianity … that we should look in the search for the sources of our dedication to republican constitutionalism.”

Strenski’s lecture, “Why Our Politics Cannot Be Freed from Religion: The State as Transformed Church,” will premiere on Monday, Aug. 17, at 2 a.m. and at noon. UCTV is a 24-hour educational channel that broadcasts interviews, lectures, documentaries, and performances from the campuses and national laboratories of the University of California. It is available on Charter Communications digital channel 95, the EchoStar DISH Network, Nationwide channel 9412, and on the Internet at, iTunesU and YouTube.

The program also will air on Aug. 18 at 8 a.m., Aug. 19 at 3 p.m., Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., Aug. 21 at 11 a.m., Aug. 22 at 5 a.m. and Aug. 23 at 5 a.m.

The 58-minute presentation was delivered on the UCR campus in May as the 57th Faculty Research Lecture. Strenski received the Faculty Research Lecturer award for 2008-09 – the highest honor that the Academic Senate bestows – for his internationally renowned research on religion and its relationship to other academic disciplines and to social and political institutions.

Strenski suggests that the history of Latin Christianity – particularly the institutional entanglements between empire and church – has worked to determine many of our widely assumed conceptions of the nature of power and politics.

“As the relation between major social institutions, like the Roman Empire and the Christian Church changed, so also did our conventional ways of thinking and speaking change – including, significantly, about the values that these institutions were felt to represent and embody, such as power or force and authority,” he says.

Strenski says that as the distinction between empire and church shrank, the popes assumed the role of emperors in the West, and the principles of spiritual and temporal collapsed into one another. “We now live with the results of these historical processes by thinking about power as we do. The reconfiguration of major institutions of the West – empire and church – resulted in a different way of thinking about power as supreme, and as a unified field.”

State and church appeared as different aspects or functioning of the same body. In effect, the nation-state functioned as a transformed church, he says.

“As a transformed church the modern state makes absolute demands for sacrifice, for absolute loyalty, for recognition of its transcendent claims to allegiance,” Strenski says. “It is a power … the modern state also lays claim in practice, at least, to the highest authority in the human world, despite the occasional protestations of some religious folks.”

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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