Readings in American Religious History

Spring 2021


Professor Mark Stoll
Holden Hall 135   E-mail: mark.stoll@ttu.edu   Web: http://www.markstoll.net/
Office Hours: by appointment


Course Description

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.


Readings and Coursework

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 to constitute a very good starter or reference library of American 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 historiography), 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 list of such questions as well, so we should have ample resources to work from.



Butler, Jon, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer. Religion in American Life: A Short History. Second ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Wilson, John F. Religion and the American Nation: Historiography and History. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003.

Graber, Jennifer. The Gods of Indian Country: Religion and the Struggle for the American West. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Hall, David D. A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

Preston, Andrew. Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy. New York: Knopf, 2012.

Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Raboteau, Albert J. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Stout, Harry S. Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War. New York: Viking, 2006.

Wilson, Charles Reagan. Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980.

Sernett, Milton C. Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.

Orsi, Robert. The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1950. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

Kruse, Kevin Michael. One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

Dochuk, Darren. From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism. New York: Norton, 2011.

Stephens, Randall J. The Devil's Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock 'n' Roll. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018.


Class Organization

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 6:00–7:45) 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 a student’s 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 January 26 with introductions to each other and to the course. Then on February 2 we will begin with the first book, by Butler, Wacker, and Balmer. Students will sign up for a second book on the first day of class.


Weekly Notes

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. Aim to make them a good resource for future reference for such purposes as papers or comprehensive exams.

Very importantly, add comments of your own as they occur to you during the reading. Set them off in some obvious manner (e.g., with an asterisk or in a different font, or in some other way). These comments can be of any sort of thing that occurs to you, such as offhand thoughts, connections to other things you’ve read in this or other classes, disagreements with the author, or other remarks that the text may inspire. Students will hand in a copy of their notes each week. Your notes are not a polished paper; rather, they demonstrate to me your understanding of and interaction with the text. Also, the notes do not need to be extensive or many pages long to do the job.

Grading of the notes will be on the following basis:
A: Good, complete, useful notes, with comments
B: Good notes, but unsatisfactory or missing comments
C: Poor or incomplete notes

Note: The week that you give a presentation, no notes are required.


Analysis Papers

Students will write two papers over the books that we have read together in class. The papers will discuss selected books and bring out their themes, evidence, strengths, weaknesses, and so forth, and analyze ways they complement, conflict with, or advance over each other. Papers should be 6–10 pages long. The papers are due in class on March 23 and in my office by 5:00 on the last day of finals, May 11.

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. Do not add extra space between paragraphs. If your word-processing program automatically adds space between paragraphs, adjust the Paragraph settings. Footnotes and bibliography are not required, but if used, must 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.

Graduate-level writing should have no major problems in grammar and punctuation. If you suspect your paper is weak in those areas, I strongly encourage you to ask for help from the University Writing Center, which can either help you online or in person.



Students will select one book on the first day of class to present to the class. A presentation should inform the rest of the class about the book’s contents, author, and significance. No great research is necessary, but reference to book reviews, historiographies, and similar works would be necessary to gauge the full importance of a work. Read or consult a biography of the author. The purpose of these presentations is to acquaint the class well enough with works of foundational literature familiar that they could discuss them intelligently in a paper. I highly recommend that students practice their presentations before class, to make sure that the presentation is strong and fits within the time allotted. The class would be expected to take notes over the presentations.

Grading of presentations will be on the basis of the cogency and clarity of the presentation as well as coverage of the main points mentioned above. Presentations that run longer than 25 minutes will be docked a letter grade.


Book Paper

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 contemporary and modern reviews, a biography and other relevant secondary sources, articles, and other secondary literature to construct this paper of 8 to 10 pages in length. You will find useful databases on the TTU Library Website https://www.depts.ttu.edu/library/. Click Databases A–ZArts & Sciences -- HumanitiesHistory (or English or General). Other helpful databases include ArticleFirst and JSTOR. 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. Use a cover page. Footnotes and bibliography must 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 45% on your papers, 25% on your notes, 10% on your presentation, and 20% on the quality of your contributions to class discussion.


Books for presentations

Michael Wigglesworth, Day of Doom

Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God

Thomas Paine, Age of Reason

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature and Divinity School Address

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Minister's Wooing

Lew Wallace, Ben Hur

Harold Frederic, The Damnation of Theron Ware

Charles Sheldon, In His Steps

Annie Trumbull Slosson, Seven Dreamers

Abraham Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky

Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness, or Loaves and Fishes

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain

Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Hal Lindsey, The Late, Great Planet Earth


The Fine Print

“Religious holy day” means a holy day observed by a religion whose places of worship are exempt from property taxation under Texas Tax Code §11.20. A student who intends to observe a religious holy day should make that intention known in writing to the instructor prior to the absence. A student who is absent from classes for the observance 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. A student who is excused under this provision may not be penalized for the absence; however, the instructor may respond appropriately if the student fails to complete the assignment satisfactorily.

Any student who, because of a disability, may require special arrangements in order to meet the course requirements should contact the instructor as soon as possible to make any necessary arrangements. Students should present appropriate verification from Student Disability Services during the instructor’s office hours. Please note: instructors are not allowed to provide classroom accommodations to a student until appropriate verification from Student Disability Services has been provided. For additional information, please contact Student Disability Services in West Hall or call 806-742-2405.

Academic integrity is taking responsibility for one’s own work, being individually accountable, and demonstrating intellectual honesty and ethical behavior. Academic integrity is a personal choice to abide by the standards of intellectual honesty and responsibility. Because education is a shared effort to achieve learning through the exchange of ideas, students, faculty, and staff have the collective responsibility to build mutual trust and respect.  Ethical behavior and independent thought are essential for the highest level of academic achievement, which then must be measured. Academic achievement includes scholarship, teaching and learning, all of which are shared endeavors. Grades are a device used to quantify the successful accumulation of knowledge through learning. Adhering to the standards of academic integrity ensures that grades are earned honestly and gives added value to the entire educational process. Academic integrity is the foundation upon which students, faculty, and staff build their educational and professional careers.

Students are responsible for understanding the principles and policies regarding academic integrity at Texas Tech University and abide by them in all class and/or course work at the University. Academic misconduct violations are outlined in the Code of Student Conduct. The University policies and procedures regarding academic integrity can be found in the Student Handbook.  The Student Handbook and the Code of Student Conduct can be found online at www.ttu.edu/studenthandbook.

It is the aim of the faculty of Texas Tech University to foster a spirit of complete honesty and high standard of integrity. The attempt of students to present as their own any work not honestly performed is regarded by the faculty and administration as a most serious offence and renders the offenders liable to serious consequences, possibly suspension.

Academic or “Scholastic” dishonesty includes, but it not limited to, cheating, plagiarism, collusion, falsifying academic records, misrepresenting facts, and any act designed to give unfair academic advantage to the student (such as, but not limited to, submission of essentially the same written assignment for two courses without the prior permission of the instructor) or the attempt to commit such an act.

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.


Course Schedule


Jan 26


Feb 2

Jon Butler, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer. Religion in American Life
No second book this week

Feb 9

John F. Wilson, Religion and the American Nation

Feb 16

Jennifer Graber, The Gods of Indian Country

Feb 23

David D. Hall, A Reforming People
Jose Andino, Jonathan Edwards, Faithful Narrative

Mar 2

Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith
Paloma Guerra, Tom Paine, Age of Reason

Mar 9

Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity

Sarah Tapia, Joseph Campbell, Hero With a Thousand Faces

Mar 16

Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion
Elisa Lopez, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Scarlet Letter

Mar 23

Harry S. Stout, Upon the Altar of the Nation
First paper due

Mar 30

Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood
Johnny Ambriz, Charles Sheldon, In His Steps

Apr 6

Milton C. Sernett, Bound for the Promised Land
Jose Arroyo, Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry

Apr 13

Robert Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street

Apr 20

Kevin Michael Kruse, One Nation Under God
Samantha Manz, Malcolm X

Apr 27

Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt
Courtney Lee, Hal Lindsey, The Late, Great Planet Earth

May 4

Randall J. Stephens, The Devil's Music

May 11

Final paper due