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.
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, 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 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, March 17, 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, “A Good Christian is a Good Citizen,” Christianity Today (August 12, 1951).
J. Edgar Hoover, “Soviet Rule or Christian Renewal,” Christianity Today, (November 7, 1960).
Dwight D. Eisenhower, “What Faith in God Means to Me,” These Times, (September 1, 1960).
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Ronit Stahl, “Chaplain Jim Wants You,” in Enlisting Faith (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015).
Thursday, March 26, 2020
Second Paper Assignment Distributed in Class
Michael K. Honey, “‘In God’s Economy’: Organizing and the Poor Peoples’ Campaign,” in To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice (New York: W.W. Norton, 2019).
Monday March 30 to Friday April 3: Individual Meetings to Discuss 2nd Paper.
Tuesday, March 31, 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).
Prisoners at Attica State Prison in 1971 participate in a negotiation session. Associated Press.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
In Class Viewings:
Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream, August 28, 1963.
Fannie Lou Hamer, “Speech Before the Democratic National Convention,” August 22, 1964.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Third and Final Blog Post due before 9am.
Carl McIntire, Against the Civil Rights Bill, 1964.
Jerry Falwell, Ministers and Marchers, 1965.
Thursday, April 9, 2020
Special Guest Lecture by Emily Cosgrove, “Religious Movements against Mass Incarceration.”
Primary Sources available on Canvas.
Monday April 13: Second Paper Due via Canvas by 6pm.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
In Class Viewing:
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Paul C. Johnson, “Savage Civil Religion,” Numen 52, No. 3 (2005), 289-324.
Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, “With CIA Help, NYPD Moves Covertly In Muslim Areas,” Associated Press (August 24, 2011), available at The Seattle Daily Times.
In Class Viewing: Billy Graham, “9/11 Message from the Washington National Cathedral,” September 14, 2001
Thursday, April 23, 2020
Final Exam due on Canvas, date TBD.