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This is the homepage for RELI 361 – Religion & Politics in American History, offered at Pacific Lutheran University in Fall 2011. We invite you to view student blog posts under the blog tab. Students can find course information under relevant tabs

Course Description

This course covers the history of religion and politics in the United States. It focuses on two important questions

  1. How did the founders of the U.S. conceive of religion’s relationship to the state, and how did subsequent generations of Americans understand and build upon the Constitutional framework set up by the founders?
  2. How have various religious figures and groups attempted to influence public policy?

The course is roughly divided into two halves; in the first half we will deal primarily with the first question, while in the second half we will look more closely at the second question.  The primary goal of this course is to help you think historically about religion and politics. Studying religion historically has three particular implications:

  1. We will pay attention to change over time
  2. We will focus on the social, cultural, and environmental contexts in which debates about religion & politics took place and in which religiously motivated political action developed
  3. We will seek to explain how and why these debates and activist movements emerged rather than focusing on their validity

Much of what passes for political debate in American culture lacks nuance and serious engagement with different opinions, two hallmarks of academic inquiry. So our goal here is not simply to debate the issues. I expect that we will have debates along the way, but these debates will primarily consider historical events. I do not expect or require you to disclose your political or religious commitments. Rather, I want all of us in this course to wrestle with thorny questions about religion’s role in American politics. In so doing, I believe we’ll develop a more complex and thoughtful appreciation of how religion and politics have interacted in American history.

This course fulfills the GUR RC requirement (line one). If you have previously taken an RC course, you may not count this course toward fulfillment of the GUR in religion. You may count it as an elective. If you have questions, please consult with the instructor.


NOTE: This is an upper-division course. That means that I assume you already have developed basic skills of critical inquiry, interpretation, and competent oral and written expression that are essential to the academic study of religion. As a general rule, one should not attempt an upper-division religion course without having previously taken a lower-level religion course at PLU. This is because a lower-level religion course introduces one to the methods and approach in the academic study of religion. Upper-division courses assume mastery of basic skills that include: 1) identifying and describing the vision, theme, or argument in primary and secondary sources; 2) Expanding and deepening your description and interpretation of these by locating them within their larger social, cultural, and geographic contexts; and, 3) Practicing the habit of continuously posing questions to information one is discovering, organizing, and interpreting. If you are not confident of your skills, I will be glad to work with you on them by meeting during office hours, reading drafts, and consulting with you on reading assignments. But know that grades will be based on criteria for an upper-division course. The course presumes the basics and will ask you to engage in higher-level cognitive skills of analysis and synthetic thinking.



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