Sociology | Topics in Social Policy
S360 | 26737 | Steensland


In recent years, people have proclaimed that America is being torn
apart by a culture war.  Scholars, political analysts, and pundits
worry that the American ideal – E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One – is
becoming untenable because we are divided, like never before, over
cultural and moral issues.  According to this viewpoint, there is a
battle for America’s soul being fought between traditionalists (who
hold conservative, orthodox beliefs) and progressives (who hold more
liberal, often secular beliefs).  The field of battle involves issues
such as gay marriage, abortion, evolution and creationism, euthanasia,
sex education, and a variety of church-state issues.  The stakes,
according to many, are radically different visions of what American
society should be like.

This course will evaluate this ‘culture wars’ thesis.  The course is
intended neither to change your beliefs nor to determine what is
‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ but to provide you with strategies for thinking
about moral controversies in a more informed way.  We will introduce a
number of concepts that can help us think about these issues more
clearly by understanding their political and social dimensions.  We
will learn about the role of religion in American public life, since
morality and religion are closely intertwined in the U.S.  We will
place contemporary cultural debates in a broader historical context by
examining similar debates during the past 100 years.  We will look at
changes in American culture since the 1960s that many people believe
have caused the recent upsurge in moral conflict.  We will examine a
few debates in depth.  We will outline some proposals for dealing with
moral disagreements.  And we will evaluate whether America is really
as divided as some people claim.