Graduation Year

2016

Date of Submission

8-2016

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Government

Reader 1

John J. Pitney, Jr.

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Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2016 Kailas J. Menon

Abstract

Using the academic and journalistic coverage of Richard Nixon’s religious life as a case study, this thesis argues that social scientists and commentators pay insufficient attention to religion, even when it is an important factor. In a sample of biographies of Nixon and specialist studies of Nixon’s life and career, nearly all the authors minimized the influence of Nixon’s religious upbringing on his political life, regardless of the author’s own views on Nixon. In stark contrast to this body of work, this paper finds that Nixon’s birth into the Religious Society of Friends (or “Quakers”) shaped his political career. Nixon’s evangelical brand of Quakerism allowed him to make contacts among powerful Quakers like Herbert Hoover and well-placed non-Quaker Protestants like Billy Graham. Quakerism also served Nixon as an emotional support in times of political crisis—a necessity for Nixon, who reacted poorly to stress—and when he suffered a crisis of faith in 1962, his political tactics became noticeably more amoral and vindictive. On a policy level, the Quaker tradition of altruism influenced Nixon’s racial policies for the better. Despite his own racist views and those of his political allies, Nixon was a relatively strong advocate of civil rights at home and abroad. Although this paper acknowledges alternative explanations for this discrepancy, such as political biases and the unavailability of primary sources, these explanations were found to be insufficient. This conclusion raises troubling questions about academic impartiality. Do academics intentionally avoid discussing religion? If so, is this due to anti-Christian or anti-religious feeling, as some studies suggest? And if not, what drives academic avoidance of religion?

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