Contrary to the expectations of some (and with apologies to Mark Twain), rumors of the
demise of religion in the modern national and global era have proven to be greatly exaggerated. Along with continuing to provide the “sacred canopy” over communities and individuals, religion continues to claim space in the national public square; from local school boards to presidential races, it simply refuses to go away. This course will provide a historical frame within which to understand the ebb and flow of religious traditions in the United States, in its contiguous neighbors, and in its far-flung territories. From Puritans to Pentecostals (and
everything in between, around, over, and under — non-Christian religions will be included), this course will examine the course of religious institutions, traditions and practices from
pre-Columbian to postmodern times, looking especially at themes of encounter and contact, insider vs. outsider, migration and place, and borrowing from other disciplinary tool chests (e.g., ethnomusicology) and subdisciplinary methods in religious studies (e.g., “lived” and “material” religion). This course is as much about the pluribus as it is about the unum of America’s religion(s). We will follow the thematic and historical contours offered by
Catherine Albanese in her definitive textbook, America: Religion and Religions, examine
primary documents and critical essays in the anthology by Patrick Allitt (Major Problems in American Religious History), and weave in more creative works by such authors as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, and James Baldwin. Some assignments will also involve
listening and viewing exercises. Several short reflection papers will be required, along with occasional quizzes, a short research paper, and a midterm and a final exam.
Two lectures and one discussion section per week. No prerequisites.