Religious Studies | American Religion and Politics
R271 | 11503 | Honeyford


Above course carries A&H distribution.

American Religions and Politics: Religious Right and Liberal Left

Religion and politics are two of the most divisive issues in
contemporary America. When fused, they become potentially explosive.
This course will examine the volatile admixture of religion and
politics in America from the Puritans to the present in pursuit of a
better understanding of approaches used in the past and the present,
and the ways in which partisans in the contemporary debates
appropriate and promote very different perceptions of the past—and
divergent visions for future.

During the first half of the course, we will examine several
different approaches religious people have taken when participating
in politics throughout American history. Key examples include the
Puritan “theocracy” in New England, the “voluntarist” model of the
Great Awakening, debates concerning religious establishment during
the Revolutionary era, and the mainline Protestant ascendancy (in
the face of growing Catholic strength) from the mid-19th to the mid-
20th century.  The second half of the course will examine religious
and political discourses of the present. We will analyze the rise of
the Christian Right, the debates over the role of religion in
politics that have ensued, and the ways in which the Left and the
Right appropriate the past to bolster their arguments. On a daily
basis throughout the course, we will also monitor and analyze the
use and abuse of religion in the 2008 election season, especially
the campaigns for the U.S.
presidency.

Given the nature of the material, evaluation of student performance
will be based on the quality of classroom participation (20%), four
short papers assessing the use of religion and history in the
politics of the present (first two worth 10% each, second two 15%
each), and a final take-home exam (30%) that will ask students to
evaluate past approaches to the role of religion in the political
process and to propose a model for the constructive role of religion
in contemporary American politics. Students, especially
international students, will be encouraged to add a comparative
dimension to classroom discussion and assignments, incorporating
assessments of non-American models to help illuminate the American
context.