Theory and Society

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 25–55 | Cite as

Civil religious contention in Cairo, Illinois: priestly and prophetic ideologies in a “northern” civil rights struggle

  • Jean-Pierre Reed
  • Rhys H. Williams
  • Kathryn B. Ward


We argue that analyses of civil religious ideologies in civil rights contention must include the interplay of both movement and countermovement ideologies and must recognize the ways in which such discourse amplifies conflict as well as serves as a basis for unity. Based on in-depth interviews, archival research, and content analysis of civil religious language, this article examines how priestly and prophetic civil religious discourses, and the infusion of Black power ideologies, provided significant and dynamic resources for both movement and countermovement ideologies during periods of civil rights contention in Cairo, Illinois, especially from 1969 to 1972. We compare the ways in which Cairo’s civil rights leaders mobilized prophetic versions of civil religion, and concomitantly, how white countermovement organizations used a priestly civil religion. On the prophetic side the themes of “equality,” “freedom,” “justice,” and the “right to revolt” against worldly socio-political arrangements were employed. On the priestly side, the theme of “law” and “order” was played up, with a secondary theme that connected religious acquiescence to worldly power with God’s will. The former rhetoric saw calls for economic and employment integration within God’s will and the nation’s destiny. The latter rhetoric contrasted civil rights claims as essentially “un-American.”


Civil religion Prophetic discourse Priestly discourse Civil rights movement Rev. Charles Koen White hats 



We are grateful to Sarah Lawrence. She played an invaluable role in locating important documents for this article and finalizing its formatting. Her assiduousness made the timely completion of the article possible. Allison Crossley provided us with useful feedback when an earlier draft of the manuscript was presented American Associological Association 2013 conference in NY.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-Pierre Reed
    • 1
  • Rhys H. Williams
    • 2
  • Kathryn B. Ward
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologySouthern Illinois University at CarbondaleCarbondaleUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyLoyola University at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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