American Exceptionalism: Destiny or Delusion?

UCR Extension and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to host free public forum with Beth Hill-Skinner and Robert Garafalo

American Flag

The American flag and California state flag at sunset at UC Riverside.

Story written by Sandra T. Richards

Is the United States uniquely destined to rule the world or is American Exceptionalism a form of extremism disguised among religious and patriotic myths and symbols?

Proponents of American Exceptionalism believe that the United States is unique among nations and was divinely chosen to lead the world to truth, justice and democracy.  Critics argue that America has to find its way by negotiating a place for itself in the world and can’t assume a unique place and privilege in the world.

The issue, which has polarized the country, will be explored during a free, public forum presented by UCR Extension and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute titled “American Exceptionalism: A Religious Dimension or Religious Extremism” on Thursday, March 22, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the UCR Extension Center, 1200 University Ave., Riverside.

Two Osher faculty members, Beth Hill-Skinner and Robert Garafalo, will examine American Exceptionalism philosophically and pragmatically from its roots in Colonial history to the Iraq War and the current presidential campaign.

Beth Hill-Skinner, who holds master’s degrees in Theological Studies and International Diplomacy with a specialty in Transnational Terrorism, said American Exceptionalism spawned the democratic society in the United States that allows for people to be free from an economic, sociological and religious standpoint.

“While it has been a good thing at times, it leads to arrogance and hubris,” Skinner said.

In today’s political climate, American Exceptionalism has become a highly polarizing argument.

“It’s ridiculous,” Skinner said. “We’re either the right kind of American or an American who is ruining the country. And, that kind of polarity is dangerous.”

Garafalo, who has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and Theology, will take the position that American Exceptionalism is rooted in religious language and symbolism and that language and symbols works because people respond to them..

“American Exceptionalism when properly understood is not necessarily a negative thing,” Garafalo said. “It is something that can become a type of chauvinism or jingoism that is a caricature of itself but then it can be a force for self correcting.”

The public forum is one in a continuing series called Windows on the World featuring timely, thought-provoking and provocative topics. The next forum on the Dream Act is scheduled for May.

Sandra Richards, UCR Extension’s Director of Arts and Humanities, and Science, Law and Health, said the series was designed to introduce individuals to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, sponsored by UCR Extension.

Osher offers quarterly, college-level courses without tests or grades for adults, 50 years and older.

For further information about the Windows on the World series call (951) 827-4105 or go to and click on the Free Public Forum link.  To learn more about the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute call (951) 827-7139 or go to

Media Contact

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Additional Contacts

Sandra T. Richards
Tel: (951) 827-7139

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