Sociology | Social Problems and Policies
S101 | 10886 | Steensland

TOPIC: Moral Controversy in the U.S.

In recent years, people have proclaimed that America is being torn
apart by a culture war.  Scholars and political commentators worry
that the American ideal- E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One – is
becoming unattainable because our society is 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 includes issues such as gay marriage, abortion,
evolution, euthanasia, sex education, and a variety of church-state
issues.  At stake in this battle, according to many, are radically
different visions of what American society should be like.

This course will discuss and evaluate this ‘culture wars’ thesis and
then closely examine four topics that have generated moral
controversy in recent years: abortion, homosexuality, stem cell
research, and teaching evolution in public schools.  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 outline some proposals for dealing with moral
disagreements.  And we will evaluate whether America is really as
divided as some people claim.