"Obama’s Protestant Rhetoric: Race and American Identity in the 2008 Election"
I chose this topic because I was particularly fascinated with how religious rhetoric is used in American public life in ostensibly secular settings. In my exploration of this topic, I became interested with the way Protestant rhetoric was established within American political discourse, and I decided to explore this phenomenon further, which resulted in my thesis.
The historic Obama campaign in 2008 hinged on whether prejudice and racism would prevent Obama from being able to successfully win the democratic nomination and the presidency. Because of Obama’s outsider status through his race and his father’s immigration status, he had unique obstacles to overcome to earn the presidency. One of the most interesting ways Obama was able to overcome his outsider status was through Protestant rhetoric. Obama claims his membership in the black community through his involvement in a black Protestant church, while still using a language of “faith” to appeal to a broader American audience in the speech “A More Perfect Union.” Obama also presents himself as the successor to Martin Luther King Jr. with his motif of the “Joshua generation” and uses King’s moral and religious authority as a minister to make religious appeals. Finally, in his acceptance speech for the Democratic Party’s nomination, Obama develops the theme of the “American promise” as a religious concept through his religious rhetoric. Obama’s presentation of the American promise specifically uses themes and ideas from the Exodus story that place Obama not just in a religious legacy, but in an American presidential legacy. Through close textual analysis of important speeches, this thesis will demonstrate how Obama strategically used religious rhetoric to overcome criticism and characterize himself as patriotic, American and presidential.