Political Science | Religion, Politics, and Public Policy
Y249 | 14271 | McGinnis


Is there a “wall of separation” between church and state in the USA?
Yes and no.  Public officials are not allowed to directly advance
the interests of any religious denomination, nor can religious
leaders endorse particular candidates for public office without
risking their tax-exempt status. But the mere fact that religious
organizations enjoy exemptions from common tax burdens demonstrates
that something more subtle is going on here. Furthermore, some
countries have higher and stronger walls than the US, and others
make no pretense of separation.

This course provides an overview of the many ways in which the
leaders of political and religious organizations interact with each
other on a regular basis. All such interactions are controversial,
attracting opposition from religious or political forces, and often
from both. We will begin by surveying the historical path through
which a country initially composed of states which had, at that
time, established particular religions as their official state
religions, evolved into the current situation of enforced
disestablishment and all levels of government. We will then evaluate
the many contributions that faith-based organizations make in the
formation and implementation of public policy in the U.S.,
especially in the areas of welfare, education, health care,
international humanitarian aid, and the protection of human rights.

The second part of the course looks at the U.S. case in global
perspective. We’ll examine how the historical development of all
world religions have been influenced or re-directed by temporary
alliances with political leaders, and the legal distinctions that
contemporary governments make concerning the treatment of different
religions in their own countries.

Course readings will consist of a few textbooks and other readings
on e-reserves, including U.S. Department of State reports on
violations of religious freedom in particular countries. Grading
will be based on a few exams and short writing assignments. There is
no prerequisite, beyond being willing to examine the reality of the
complex inter-weaving of religion and politics in the contemporary
world.