Discourse in a religious mode: The Bush administration’s discourse in the war on terrorism and its challenges

Gordon C. Chang and Hugh B. Mehan


This study of the politics of representation illustrates the Bush Administration’s use of a religious mode of representation to make sense of the 9/11 events, to legitimize military actions against the Taliban, Afghanistan, and terrorism in general. The religious mode of representation is enabled by the construction and application of what we call the “War on Terrorism script,” which is grounded in the institution of “American civil religion.” We demonstrate the unique power of this mode of representation to create a coherent account at a time of national crisis, to establish connections between the 9/11 perpetrators, the Taliban, and the Afghanistan government. By comparing the Bush Administration’s discourse with those voiced by dissenters and critics using intellectual, rational, and legal representations and modes of argumentation in the post-9/11 contexts, we demonstrate how the institutionalization of a particular mode of speaking influence a particular mode of thinking and a particular mode of acting. We also argue that the convention governing political discourse have significant implications in determining the legitimacy of definitions and interpretations of political situations as well as of political actions.

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