Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Arts & Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis
ABSTRACT | American Origins: Political and Religious Divides in U.S. Collective Memory
Origin stories are particularly influential collective memories, establishing a society in the minds of its members. National collective memories are frequently conceived as being shared by all members of the country, but sub-national groups may differ in their images of the nation’s past and future. Surveying 2000 Americans, we examined political and religious differences in foundational events selected for America’s origins. While there was considerable agreement across religious and political affiliations for the most important events, there were also critical divides. These divergences were characterized by group differences in the probability of mentioning negative origin events, and in emotional evaluations of European colonization. Secular participants were most likely to begin America with the independent state (the American Revolution or the Constitution), whereas religious participants frequently began America with earlier colonization events (e.g., Columbus’s “discovery” or the Pilgrims). These religious and political differences corresponded with differing trajectories in participants’ images of the nation across time, into the collective future. More politically conservative and religious participants demonstrated a stronger negative slope from national origins to the collective future, congruent with the use of an implicit jeremiad narrative in constructing their image of the nation across time. The different origin stories accord with contrasting images of America and American identity.