How Well Did the Founders Know the Bible?

Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers: Panel Discussion


American University’s Political Theory Institute, a JMC partner program, will hold a panel addressing how scripture influenced Founders’ beliefs, writings, and lifestyles.

Thursday, April 5, 2018 • 5:30PM—7:00PM
Kerwin Hall, Room 301 • American University

The panel will focus on Daniel Dreisbach’s book, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers. Professor Dreisbach will discuss his book with Jonathan Silver and W.B. Allen, who is a JMC fellow.

Learn more about the event >>

About Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers


"Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers" book coverNo book was more accessible or familiar to the American founders than the Bible, and no book was more frequently alluded to or quoted from in the political discourse of the age. How and for what purposes did the founding generation use the Bible? How did the Bible influence their political culture?

Shedding new light on some of the most familiar rhetoric of the founding era, Daniel Dreisbach analyzes the founders’ diverse use of scripture, ranging from the literary to the theological. He shows that they looked to the Bible for insights on human nature, civic virtue, political authority, and the rights and duties of citizens, as well as for political and legal models to emulate. They quoted scripture to authorize civil resistance, to invoke divine blessings for righteous nations, and to provide the language of liberty that would be appropriated by patriotic Americans.

Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers broaches the perennial question of whether the American founding was, to some extent, informed by religious–specifically Christian–ideas. In the sense that the founding generation were members of a biblically literate society that placed the Bible at the center of culture and discourse, the answer to that question is clearly “yes.” Ignoring the Bible’s influence on the founders, Dreisbach warns, produces a distorted image of the American political experiment, and of the concept of self-government on which America is built.

Purchase the book on Amazon >>

Daniel Dreisbach is a Professor in Justice, Law, and Criminology at American University. Professor Dreisbach earned a doctor of philosophy degree from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Virginia. His principal research interests include American constitutional law and history, First Amendment law, church-state relations, and criminal procedure. He has authored or edited ten books and numerous articles in scholarly journals. Among the courses he teaches are Introduction to Law, American Legal Culture, Issues in Civil Justice, Law and Religion, and the Constitution and Criminal Procedure. Professor Dreisbach is a past recipient of American University’s highest faculty award: Scholar/Teacher of the Year.

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Jonathan Silver is Senior Director at the Tikvah Fund, where he hosts the Tikvah Podcast on Great Jewish Essays and Ideas, Tikvah’s library of Online Courses, and oversees a range of educational programs and publishing ventures. He was educated at Tufts University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

Listen to of Dr. Silver’s Tikvah Podcast >>

W.B. AllenWilliam B. Allen is a professor of Political Philosophy in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, and 2008-09 Visiting Senior Scholar in the JMC partner program Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University. He also served previously on the National Council for the Humanities and as Chairman and Member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He was recently the Ann & Herbert W. Vaughan Visiting Fellow in the James Madison Program on American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is an expert on liberal arts education, its history, importance and problems. He is also Chairman and co-founder of Toward A Fair Michigan, whose mission was to further understanding of the equal opportunity issues involved in guaranteeing civil rights for all citizens, and to provide a civic forum for a fair and open exchange of views on the question of affirmative action.

Learn more about Professor Allen >>


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