by Gabby Eubanks
The Pledge of Allegiance, the American flag, the Star-Spangled Banner, the American bald eagle, the July 4th holiday. You recognize all of these symbols as commemorations of our American heritage.
But how do these symbols and others that exist in every corner of our society determine our national identity? How does our collective national identity and the related ideologies affect our mindset as citizens and our will as a nation?
Dr. Keith Huey, professor of religion, and Dr. David Greer, professor of history, want students to critically think about the implications of national identity and to be curious about what it is and how it affects our world. Thus, they launched a class this semester called “History, Faith and Culture: A Survey of Modern Nationalism.”
The topic of nationalism is increasingly relevant to the world that we live in and aspects of it exist in areas that you may never have even realized.
This is what I have learned as a student in the Modern Nationalism class. My fellow students and I are given more questions than answers when understanding even the basic premise of what nationalism is, much less what all of its implications are.
You may have a basic understanding of what nationalism is and you may have your own connotations that pertain to the word, but in many cases, it is not a well-received concept.
This has many historically based reasons but nationalism is interwoven into the history and formation of the modern world.
Here’s an example: Think back to when you were in high school. If you were in the American K-12 education system, you’ll remember reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on a consistent basis.
“Every Monday, we would say the Pledge of Allegiance to start off our week,” said Mikayla Hubbard, a senior interdisciplinary studies major. “It was never really explained to us why we said it — just that it was a part of our routine in the first hour and that it was expected that we would participate and that it ‘set the tone for the
But you may be asking yourself, why do we have students do that? Why do we sing the national anthem before sporting events? What does all of this mean and does it really matter?
National identity has many implications for how society functions as well as how nations interact with each other.
Learning about the history, characteristics and implications of nationalism is important when understanding the various traditions and social norms within American society. Also, national identity is often utilized in history to create the perception of a group of people. Within a nationalistic society, it is important to understand how our view of identity reflects reality.
Studying nationalism broadens your perspectives and your understanding of how nations interact with one another. “Some people simply cannot see beyond the borders of our own country,” Huey said.
Both Huey and Greer have traveled and experienced many different nationalistic identities throughout Europe and share the sentiment that being able to understand the national identities of other countries and of America is crucial to understanding both ourselves and other cultures.
The professors acknowledge that nationalism has the ability to unify people and promote community and inclusivity, but Greer said, “There’s a lot of toxic expression of nationalism.”
Nationalism has been used historically to justify many terrible things, just as it has been used to create community. “There are elements of nationalism that are inclusive, and can encourage inclusivity, but there are other forms that are very much exclusionary,” Greer said.
The benefits of using nationalism, other than to create national unity, are yet to be determined, as well as whether or not society would be at a loss without it. Greer said, “I wrestle with the question of whether the absence of national identity has a detrimental nature to society.”
Weighing the reality of the pros and cons of the effects of nationalism must be taken into account and to what extent are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of national identity.
Huey asks: “What is so important that you would kill someone for a national identity?”
Additionally, an aspect of creating an ideal national identity requires forgetting the negative aspects of the nation.
“You have to forget certain things, and there are times when it is not ethical to forget,” Huey said. This raises the question of what is worth giving up for the sake of national identity?
Nationalism is a relevant concept today because it can help understand how our collective identity is formed, which then factors into many international issues.
By understanding nationalism and learning about its history, we can begin to understand how collective identities interact with one another.
Next time you sing the national anthem or say the Pledge of Allegiance, think about the deeper meaning of those actions.