First Things, “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” invited sociologist Alexander Riley to participate in a special podcast on the meaning of Thanksgiving.

Rusty Rob and Mark Bauerlein, editors of First Things, interviewed Dr. Riley, Senior Fellow, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) and professor of sociology, Bucknell University, on the historical and religious dimensions of this national holiday.

In the podcast, Dr. Riley links the civil tradition of Thanksgiving to a Judeo-Christian religious ritual of gratitude created collectively by a people who regarded themselves as chosen by a providential God for a special mission on earth.  He also explores the importance of myth in the symbolic rendering of the past.

At the time of the founding of the United States, as Dr. Riley points out, the Baron de Montesquieu ranked as the foremost foreign influence on the meaning of republican government and what was required to sustain it. In describing types and sub-types of various forms of government, Montesquieu underscored the importance of virtue in creating and maintaining republics.  Holidays like Thanksgiving serve a vital collective purpose in uniting citizens around a shared identity and reminding them of their debt to forces larger than themselves.