Religion and Politics 225
John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics
Washington University in St. Louis
The United States has often been imagined as both a deeply Christian nation and a thoroughly secular republic. These competing visions of the nation have created conflict throughout American history and have made the relationship between religion and politics quite contentious. This course surveys the complex entanglements of religion and public life from the colonial era through the contemporary landscape. Topics covered include: religious liberty and toleration, secularization, the rise of African-American churches, the Civil War, national identity and the Protestant establishment, the religious politics of women’s rights, religion and the market, the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the religious left and right, debates over church-state separation, constructions of religious pluralism, and religion after 9/11.
Your grade will be calculated as follows:
Note: All assignments must be completed to receive a passing grade in the course.
The most important assignments for this course are to attend class regularly, do the reading, and participate in discussion. Given the importance of in-class discussions, all students are expected to go beyond the role of the “active observer” and merely attending lecture/discussions. Rather, students must work towards critical engagement with their peers and the instructor. Therefore, it is imperative that students complete assigned readings on time and come to class ready to critically engaged the subject matter and share their reflections and insights.
Whether it’s impeachment, Supreme Court cases, or the ongoing election, the themes of this course are often relevant to current events in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Each student in the course will create an account on Twitter and tweet about current events relating to the course using the hashtag #RelPolt. We will often begin class by discussing the news and our tweets about it. Each student should share at least 5 articles before the end of the semester. To receive credit, be sure to post links to your tweets on Canvas in the “Twitter Quiz” section.
Since we are no longer meeting in person, I ask that you interact with each other and the news on Twitter. Please be sure to comment on at least 3 of your classmates’ Twitter posts. I have added Quiz fields on Canvas for you to post links to your replies to your classmates. Forgive me, this was a bad idea. Instead, we’ll be talking about the news in our small group chats. Please ignore these earlier instructions.
Throughout the semester, you will write four blog posts, each due before 9 a.am the day of class. These 250-400 word posts should be written informally. The blog posts are designed to help you prepare for discussion and to provide a forum for you to write . They should include your response to the readings: What do you have questions about? What confused or interested you? How do themes in recent readings relate to topics we studied earlier in the course. Feel free to engage with your classmates, but make sure to root your responses in the reading.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks about his opposition to the war in Vietnam at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, in New York. RNS file photo by John C. Goodwin.
Most weeks will entail short quizzes (5-6 minutes) at the beginning of class. These quizzes are graded generously and serve two functions: 1) they help ensure that all participants read the materials before class and 2) they help guide your studying and learning by highlighting the most important questions and themes of the course. The goal setting assignment due through Canvas before the second day of class is assessed as a quiz for grading purposes.
Two short essays, One short essay, between 800-1100 words, will follow units on the Slavery, Abolition, & Confederate Nationalism and on Civil Rights, Struggle, and Retrenchment. Prompts and instructions for these essays this essay will be distributed in class.
Take-home midterm and final exams will consist of short answer identification questions that will help you organize and retain the key thematic ideas, three to five slightly longer form questions to be answered in a paragraph, and one (for the midterm) or two (for the final) short essays asking you to synthesize your knowledge. The exams will be based closely on the assigned texts and discussions from class. In addition to review, the best way to prepare for them is to keep up with the reading, actively participate in class discussions, and review the material covered in the quizzes.
This course uses frequent, low-stakes assessments (such as quizzes, blog posts, and short essays) for several purposes. One function is that they provide me an opportunity to gauge your learning and comprehension; by the same token, they will also provide you with a sense how you are doing in the class. Another important function is that they provide an opportunity to practice the types of skills you will be asked to demonstrate on exams. Questions on quizzes will resemble the short answers and the blog posts and essays will resemble the essays that are part of the midterm and final exams. It is best to think of the low-stakes assignments as skill-building activities. The assignments in this course are “scaffolded,” meaning that they become more difficult over the course of the semester as you develop your skills and deepen your knowledge.
Our conversations and discussions will, at times, be difficult. We are tackling problems in liberal democracy that the best minds have failed to solve – and that equally good minds have worked to exploit. Every one of us has come of age in a world shaped by the topics we are studying in this course. The diversity of our prior experiences will be a great asset, and we will be fortunate to learn from one another. By the same token, difficult and impolitic situations will arise. When they do so, I ask that you approach one another as though we are all participants in a “community of practice.” We are learning from one another, and your goal in interacting with your peers are to learn from and teach one another. Focusing on teaching – on bringing someone along – is especially important because it helps maintain our community and the atmosphere for social learning. My goal – and I ask that you share it – is to leave people better than you found them.
All articles, book chapters, and documents listed in the syllabus will be available electronically, either as pdf files on Canvas or as online links in the syllabus.
Laptops or tablets will serve useful purposes in this course, including bringing up digital copies of readings and documents during discussion. For some in-class exercises, it will be essential for at least some members of the class to have access to online databases archives and to the Canvas site. Laptops/tablets should be closed during the class segments when they are not necessary. Using technology for non-class related purposes is not allowed and is both disrespectful and distracting to your classmates. The research on the negative effects of online multi-tasking during class is unambiguous. Cell phones should be turned off or muted during class and should not be in sight at any time. Please follow these guidelines so that we can utilize technology productively in the classroom, rather than adopt the zero-tolerance policy of many university courses.
You should write papers in a double-spaced, reader-friendly, size 12 font and use normal (1 or 1.5 inch) margins. Proper citation of all sources is expected. Please consult the Chicago Manual of Style.
Paul Edwards has written a very helpful guide to reading. Though it is intended for how to read a book, it’s also relevant to articles and other written media.
This syllabus will change. Changes will be announced on Canvas, in class, and reflected here on the online syllabus.
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Thursday, January 16, 2020
Goal Setting Assignement due before 9am.
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Abram C. Van Engen, City on a Hill Forthcoming from Yale University Press, 2020. Introduction and Chapters 7 and 8 (pages 1-16 and 101-129).
Peter Gardella, “City on a Hill: From Jesus to Winthrop, Kennedy, and Reagan,” from American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred (2014), 54-60.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, Introduction to 1619 Project, New York Times Magazine (August 14, 2019).
Thursday, January 23, 2020
First Blog Post due before 9am.
Ronald Reagan, “Farewell Address to the Nation,” (1989). Video available here.
Recommended (not required): Jonathan D. Sarna and David G. Dalin, eds., Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience (1997), 45-53, 61-80.
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
First Paper Assignment Distributed in Class
Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852).
Peter Gardella, “Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address,” from American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred (2014), 183-190.
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, (1865)
Review quickly, Michelle Martin, “Slave Bible From The 1800s Omitted Key Passages That Could Incite Rebellion,” NPR (December 9, 2018).
Recommended Additional Reading: David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829), 1-6, 35-43, 74-76
Wednesday January 29 to Tuesday February 4: Individual Meetings to Discuss 1st Paper.
Thursday, January 30, 2020
Second Blog Post due before 9am.
Three articles on the recent debate in Richmond:
A statute of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson is prominent in Richmond, Virginia.
Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Laurie Maffly-Kipp, “Republican Virtues and Western Dreams,” in Religion and Society in Frontier California (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 13-37.
Conrad Cherry, “The Westward Course of Destiny,” God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1971), 111-118.
Lyman Beacher, A Plea for the West (1835), in Cherry, God’s New Israel, 119-127.
Read the first two pages and the section headers of Tsianina K. Lomawaima, “The Unnatural History of American Indian Education,” in Next Steps: Research and Practice to Advance Indian Education, Karen Gayton Swisher and John Tippeconnic III (Charleston, WV: Clearninghouse on Rurual Education and Small Schools, 1999), 2-31.
Thursday, February 6, 2020
Mary Annette Pember, “Death by Civilization,” The Atlantic (March 8, 2019).
Friday February 7: First Paper Due via Canvas by 6pm.
The football team of the Carlisle Indian School transformed America’s now-most-popular sport, pioneering the forward pass, the spiral throw, and the hand-off fake. This image shows the 1911 team, which beat collegiate football powerhouses Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, and Brown. This image is from wikicommons.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Sylvester Johnson, “Religion, Race, and American Empire,” in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Race in American History, Paul Harvey and Kathryn Gin Lum, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018). Please read up to “Communism and Religion,” then read the Conclusion. (Roughly, pages 1-11, 16.)
Walt Witmann, “Passage to India” (1902), in Cherry, God’s New Israel, 131-139.
Additional Recommended Reading: Paul Kramer, “The Water Cure,” The New Yorker (February 25, 2008).
Thursday, February 13, 2020
This 1900 Cartoon from Life Magazine criticized U.S. Imperialism in the Philippines. A man in a clerical collar is seen standing on the face of a Filipino who had been carrying a sign reading “Give Us Liberty” and wearing a hat inscribed with passages from the Declaration of Independance. “William! William! The Presdient’s Speech,” Life (May 24, 1900), from Harris, God’s Arbiters.
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Ronald Isetti, “The Moneychangers of the Temple: FDR, American Civil Religion, and the New Deal,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 26:3 (1996): 678-693.
Sarah Hammond, “God Is My Partner”: An Evangelical Business Man Confronts Depression and War,” Church History 80:3 (2011): 498–519. This article is available online through the WashU library. Please search for and download the article on your own.
Thursday, February 20, 2020
Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Walmart (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), Prologue, Chapter 5 and Chapter 8.
Normal Rockwell memorialized FDR’s “Four Freedoms” in a series of paintings in 1943. From left to right, they are “Freedom of Speech,” Freedom of Worship,” “Freedom from Want,” and “Freedom from Fear.” Norman Rockwell, 1943.
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Kelly Baker, Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2011), 70-96, 246-264.
In Class: Small Group Discussion.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Peter Gardella, “Four Freedoms,” from American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred (2014), 257-269.
In class discussion questions Thursday, March 5, 2020
No Class. Optional peer-led review session.
Take-home midterm exam due on Canvas by 6pm on Friday, March 6.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 and Thursday, March 12, 2020
Tuesday and Thursday, March 19, 2020
The format of the online course will primarily be asynchronous. Most weeks, you will write a short, informal blog posts on Canvas of about 200 words about a subset of the week’s readings. (This is slightly shorter than the blog posts you wrote earlier in the course.) Emily and I will comment on your posts.
Each week will also feature “chats” in your small groups. The model for this are fivethirtyeight.com’s Chats, which you can review here if you’re interested.
This will entail synchronous activities with the members of your small group. If someone from your group is unable to participate, please just note that at the beginning of the conversation. Also, do your best to preserve a record of who said what. Take a look at the fivethirtyeight model to get a sense of what we’re shooting for.
I suggest that you chat during what used to be our class time, namely from 1-2pm CDT. However, if you want to collectively schedule another time that works for all the members of your small group, that is fine, too. These groups will have the same composition of the small discussion groups we frequently used when we met IRL.
I have a few goals in preserving the small groups. First, I hope it offers some continuity as we shift to online learning. Second, I hope that the groups retain their efficacy; I was impressed with how well you tackled the course content in your small group discussions, and I hope you can can continue in that productive vein. Finally, I hope that chatting in the small groups will provide some sense of community during these very unusual times. Many of us are likely to feel isolated and trapped, and I invite you to use the small group chat forums to connect with one another.
I know that this goes without saying, but please make sure to be considerate of your peers. Many of us (myself included) are worried about family who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and, according to a recent poll, one in five American households now has someone out of work due to the pandemic. In such stressful times, it’s especially important to be compassionate towards one another.
I have set up forums for your small groups on Canvas, in the “Collaborations” tab. When you click on it, you’ll find a GoogleDoc that you share with the other members of your group. I expect Google Docs to be a bit of a clunky platform, and I invite you to use whatever platform is best, so long as you can paste your transcipt into Google Docs so Emily and I can review your chats. Personally, I think chatting inside Google Hangouts may best, though Slack and old fashioned text messaging also promise to be effective. You’re also welcome to conduct a conference call or video call with your small group, so long as you rotate taking notes and making those notes available to me and Emily by the end of the day on Friday.
I ask that you conclude each chat session by attempting to articulate a “So What?!” statement or two, and by creating a short list of key terms that could be used for the final exam. Using online chat functions is slower than talking face-to-face, so I expect your small group chats to take an hour or so.
I will circulate discussion questions to guide your chats on Thursdays by 10am CDT.
Week of March 23, 2020
Jonathan P. Herzog, The Spiritual-Industrial Complex: America’s Religious Battle against Communism in the Early Cold War (2011), 3-12.
J. Edgar Hoover, “Soviet Rule or Christian Renewal,” Christianity Today, (November 7, 1960). Update 3/22/2020: The PDF is now on Canvas
Dwight D. Eisenhower, “What Faith in God Means to Me,” These Times, (September 1, 1960).
Highly recommended but not required: Richard Rhodes, “The General and World War III,” The New Yorker (June 19, 1996). This is a fascinating and riveting article. The thing to take away from it for this course is that the Cold War was no joke: People who occupied positions of leadership in the U.S. military were more than ready to begin a nuclear World War III that would resulted in hundreds of millions of deaths. It’s not exactly comforting reading in the era of coronavirus, but it’s a great article.
Tuesday March 24, 1pm: I will be online in Canvas’s “Chat” function for an AMA about the remainder of the course and the treansition to online learning.
Thursday March 26: Plan on having completed all the reading and chatting with members of your small group at 2pm EDT/1pm CDT etc.
Submit your Chat transcript by Friday at 5pm.
Week of March 30, 2020
Lerone Martin, “Bureau Clergyman: How the FBI Colluded with an African American Televangelist to Destroy Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, Winter Vol.28, No. 1 (2018).
Tuesday March 31: Submit a blog post about Annette Gordon-Reed’s essay by 1pm CDT
Thursday April 2: Plan on having completed all the reading and chatting with members of your small group at 2pm EDT/1pm CDT etc. Please your discussion on Professor Martin’s article, but feel free to also talk about MLK.
Submit your Chat transcript by Friday at 5pm.
Week of April 6, 2020
Tuesday April 7: Submit a blog post about Hamer’s Speech before the Democratic National Convention by 1pm.
Thursday April 9: Plan on having completed all the reading and chatting with members of your small group at 2pm EDT/1pm CDT etc. Please focus your discussion on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.
You can find the Discussion Questions here.
Submit your Chat transcript by Friday at 5pm.
Week of April 13, 2020
Jerry Falwell, Ministers and Marchers, 1965.
R. Marie Griffith, “The Abortion War Before and After Roe v. Wade,” in Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics (New York: Basic Books, 2017).
Tuesday April 14: Submit a blog post about Randall Balmer’s article and Jerry Falwell’s 1965 speech.
Thursday April 16: Plan on having completed all the reading and chatting with members of your small group at 2pm EDT/1pm CDT etc. Please focus your discussion on Professor Griffith’s chapter and the short 1965 article in The Atlantic. Discussion Questions are available here.
Submit your Chat transcript by Friday at 5pm.
Week of April 20, 2020
Optional: The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, “Jordan Klepper Fingers the Pulse – Conspiracy Theories Thrive at a Trump Rally” (September 21, 2016). The point of this video for this course is to dramatize the connections between claims that Obama was born outside the U.S. and claims that he is Muslim.
Thursday April 23: Plan on having completed all the reading and chatting with members of your small group at 2pm EDT/1pm CDT etc. Discussion Questions can be found here.
Submit your Chat transcript by Friday at 5pm.
May 6, 2020: Open book, take-home Final Exam due on Canvas.