This course is a graduate level introduction to significant scholarship in American religious history, from the colonial era to the present. We will meet for weekly discussions, focusing on historical interpretations, themes, and conceptualizations, with special attention to sources, argumentation, and methods employed in research and exposition. By the end of the semester you will have a solid foundation in the field.
I have carefully selected readings to cover major themes in the historiography of U.S. religion, to expose you to representative works of important scholars, and in sum to constitute a very good starter or reference library of religious history for your bookshelf. Everyone will read all assigned works with care and critical attention, coming to class ready to engage in active discussion. In reading, seek out the book or article's key thesis (and be able to summarize it in a few sentences). Also, you should be alert to its structure and rhetoric, note the claims made for advances over previous studies (relationship to the "literature"), and sketch out the conceptual or theoretical apparatus employed (identifying "keywords" and the ways they are employed). Finally, you should assess the work's evidentiary base, the scope and scale of the study within the context of the issues and events it addresses, and its relationship with other aspects of American history. Analysis of the book in this way prepares you for critical discussion and clear writing. Ideally you should each come to class with several questions written out for us to address as a group; I will have a sizable list of such questions as well, so we should have ample resources to work from.
Book reviews can aid the reading process. Look for them especially in such major journals as the Journal of American History, American Historical Review, Reviews in American History, and H-Net (Humanities Online), along with such specialized journals as Church History, The Catholic Historical Review, American Jewish History, and Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. You can access on-line and hardcopy indexes to journal articles at the library, and many of these journals are available through the Internet or the library Website, particularly through the databases America: History and Life and ArticleFirst. See also general book review indices such as Book Review Digest.
The structure of the course centers on a core book each week, fourteen monographs in all. Each week we will spend the first two-thirds of our time (roughly 3:00-4:40) critically assessing the core study. Following a 15-minute break, one student will present a summary and critique of a second, supplementary work that relates to the main book (20-25 minutes). Then we will close with comparative comments and thoughts on research initiatives this discussion has opened up.
About half of the presentation should tell about the book and its contents, while the other half should deal with the book's context in the author's life and work and in its time period, and its greater significance. I highly recommend that students practice their presentations before class, to make sure that the presentation is strong and fits within the time allotted.
We start on August 28 with introductions to each other and to the course. Then on September 4th we will begin with the first book, by Cushner. The number of presentations will depend on the number of students signed up: if less than 7, each will do two; if more, each will do one. The total number of presentations then will vary. You will sign up for a second book on the first day of class.
To promote discussions of substance, each student will write notes over the week's reading (not required of the second book, however). These notes should cover important contents and points each week's book makes, as well as many of the points mentioned above in connection with reading strategies. Feel free to add comments and arguments of your own as they occur to you during the reading. Students will then hand in a copy of their notes each week. Your notes are not a polished paper, but rather they demonstrate to me your understanding of and interaction with the text. Grading of the notes will be on that basis. Also, the notes do not need to be extensive or many pages long to do the job.
Each student will write one paper over the book he or she chose to present in class. The paper will discuss the book's main argument or purpose, its historical context, its author and his or her significance, and the its reception, impact, and place in the literature of religion and American history. Students should consult reviews, a biography or similar secondary source on the author or book, articles, and other secondary literature to construct this paper of 8 to 16 pages in length. The primary goal is the fullest possible expansion of the work's significance.
Use 12-point Times Roman or Times New Roman, double-spaced, with 1" margins all around, or 1-1/4" margins right and left, with page numbers in the margin. Footnotes and bibliography should conform to Turabian standards. Turabian's Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations is widely available at most bookstores and in the reference section of libraries.
The book paper will be due in class THREE WEEKS AFTER YOUR PRESENTATION.
Grades for this course will be based 30% on your book paper, 40% on your notes, 10% on your presentation, and 20% on the quality of your contributions to class discussion. For double presenters, the proportions will be 30, 30, 20, and 20.
Nicholas P. Cushner, Why Have You Come Here?: The Jesuits and the First
Evangelization of Native America
Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness
Catherine A. Brekus, The Religious History of American
Women: Reimagining the Past
Patricia U. Bonomi, Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and
Politics in Colonial America
Second book: Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
Presenter: James Jones
Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American
Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
Edward J. Blum and W. Scott Poole, Vale of Tears: New Essays
on Religion and Reconstruction
Ronald L Numbers and John Stenhouse, eds., Disseminating
Darwinism: The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender
Leigh Eric Schmidt, Restless Souls: The Making of American
Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in
Modern American Culture
Milton C. Sernett, Bound for the Promised Land: African
American Religion and the Great Migration
Timothy Marr, The Cultural Roots of
Second book: Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra, or Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad
Presenter: Mohamed Al-Moctar
John T. McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom
Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism: A
Second book: Abraham Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky
Presenter: Megan Gordon
Americans With Disabilities Act: Any student who, because of a disabling condition, may require some special arrangements in order to meet course requirements should contact the instructor as soon as possible to make necessary accommodations. Students should present appropriate verification for Disabled Students Services, Dean of Students Office.
Student Absence for Observation of Religious Holy Days: A student who is absent from classes for the observation of a religious holy day shall be allowed to take an examination or complete an assignment scheduled for that day within a reasonable time after the absence if, not later than the fifteenth day after the first day of the semester, the student had notified the instructor of each scheduled class that the student would be absent for a religious holy day.
The professor reserves the right to change this syllabus at his discretion. Changes will be announced in class and posted at the Web address listed above.
This page was last modified January 04, 2008 09:54 AM