Religious Studies | Religion and American Culture
R160 | 11194 | C. Brown

COLL A&H (Western Religious Tradition for the Religious Studies

How does religion influence American culture, and how does American
culture shape religion? We will answer this question by reading and
discussing novels, correspondence, laws, autobiographies, and
ethnographies; by viewing movies, television, art, and cartoons; by
listening to music; and even by eating food! The goal of this course
is to provide an engaging, accessible introduction to how religion
and American culture have intertwined, both historically and in the
present, while developing skills in critical thinking, written and
oral communication, and analysis of documents that will help
students to prepare for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses
and for careers in a variety of professions, including business,
law, medicine, and education. The course is organized thematically,
chronologically, and by religious tradition. Topics include the
Separation of Church and State in Early America; Religion and
Popular Culture in Postmodern America; Religion and Slavery in
Antebellum America; Religion and Social Justice in Industrial
America; Religion and Race in Urban America; and Religion and
Immigrant Cultures in Modernizing America. We will focus on
Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, but other traditions
will also be mentioned. We will read the Protestant Harriet Beecher
Stowe’s novel /Uncle Tom’s Cabin/ (1852); the Catholic Dorothy Day’s
autobiography, /The Long Loneliness/ (1952); the Muslim Malcolm
X’s /Autobiography/ (1964); and  the secular Jew Lis Harris’s
ethnography of a Hasidic Jewish community, /Holy Days/ (1985). We
will also screen (during lectures) several different film versions
of /Uncle Tom’s Cabin/, feature-length films of /The Long
Loneliness/ and /Malcolm X/, and a documentary film of the Hasidim,
as well as listening to clips of Contemporary  Christian Music and
Rap, watching episodes of /The Simpsons/ and /Star  Trek/, and
sampling religious foods.

Students will write two short papers, neither one of which requires
outside research; the first paper (2-3 pages) is a close reading of
a section of a primary source; the second paper (4-6 pages) is a
comparison of two primary sources, and may (this is entirely
optional) be written in a creative style, such as a hypothetical
coffee-shop conversation between two characters. The midterm and
final examinations consist of short-answer identifications and
essays. We will devote class time to helping you prepare for the
papers and  exams—through in-class writing workshops, practice “ID
Challenge” and  “Essay Euphoria” activities, and a “Jeopardy”-style
review game (with  prizes!). There are a total of 400 points
possible for the course.

Participation (including attendance, pop quizzes, and writing
workshops) counts for 100 points; the two papers are worth 150
points; the two exams add up to 150 points. The first paper and
midterm are each worth half as many points (50 vs. 100) as the
second paper and final exam, so that final course grades can reflect
improvement during the semester.