Readings in American Religious History

Fall 2023


Professor Mark Stoll
Humanities 454   E-mail: mark.stoll@ttu.edu   Web: http://www.markstoll.net/
Office Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays 11:00–12:30 and 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.



Turner, John. They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020.

Rodgers, Daniel T. As a City on a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Gerbner, Katharine. Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.

Moyer, Paul Benjamin. Detestable and Wicked Arts: New England and Witchcraft in the Early Modern Atlantic World. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2020.

Byrd, James P. Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Davis, William L. Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020.

Jemison, Elizabeth L. Christian Citizens: Reading the Bible in Black and White in the Postemancipation South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020.

Gloege, Timothy E. W. Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.

Putney, Clifford. Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880–1920. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Butler, Jon. God in Gotham: The Miracle of Religion in Modern Manhattan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020.

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

Hart, D. G. American Catholic: The Politics of Faith during the Cold War. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2020.

Lane, Christopher. Surge of Piety: Norman Vincent Peale and the Remaking of American Religious Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

Sutton, Matthew Avery. American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.


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 August 31 with introductions to each other and to the course. Students will sign up for a second book. After a break, we will begin with the first book, by Turner.


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 October 19 and in my office by 5:00 on the last day of finals, December 12.

Use 12-point Times Roman or Times New Roman, double-spaced, with standard 1" margins top and bottom and 1¼" 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 deep 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 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 America: History and Life 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 top and bottom and 1¼" margins right and left, with page numbers in the margin. Use a cover page. Footnotes and bibliography must conform to Turabian standards.

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, Freedom of the Will

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


Texas Tech Policies Concerning Academic Honesty, Special Accommodations for Students with Disabilities, Student Absences for Observance of Religious Holy Days, and Accommodations for Pregnant Students

See < https://www.depts.ttu.edu/tlpdc/RequiredSyllabusStatements.php>


AI Policy:

The use of generative AI tools (such as ChatGPT) is not permitted in this course; therefore, any use of AI tools for work in this class may be considered a violation of Texas Tech’s Academic Integrity policy and the Student Code of Conduct since the work is not your own. The use of unauthorized AI tools will result in referral to the Office of Student Conduct.


§  The Department of History adheres to Texas Tech University’s statement and related policies on issues of academic integrity <https://www.depts.ttu.edu/tlpdc/PlagiarismStatement.pdf>.

§  Any student found to be in violation of these policies will be subject to disciplinary action at both the departmental and university levels. At the departmental level, such action may include one or more of the following:

o   a failing grade (F) for the assignment in question

o   a failing grade (F) for the course

o   a written reprimand

o   disqualification from scholarships and/or funding

§  Graduate students violating academic integrity policies may also be subject to removal from the program. (See the department’s Graduate Program Handbook for more information.)

The professor reserves the right to change this syllabus at his discretion. Changes will be announced in class and posted on the class Webpages. © 2023 Mark R. Stoll. All rights reserved.



Course Schedule


Aug 24

No class

Aug 31

Turner, They Knew They Were Pilgrims
No second book this week

Sep 7

Rodgers, As a City on a Hill

No second book this week

Sep 14

Gerbner, Christian Slavery
Second book: Day of Doom,

Sep 21

Moyer, Detestable and Wicked Arts
Second book:
Emerson, Sarah

Sep 28

Byrd, Sacred Scripture, Sacred War
Second book: Ben Hur,

Oct 5

Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone
Second book: Scarlet Letter,

Oct 12

Jemison, Christian Citizens
Second book: In His Steps,

Oct 19

Gloege, Guaranteed Pure
Second book: Elmer Gantry,
Adam Hogan
First paper due

Oct 26

Butler, God in Gotham
Second book: Long Loneliness,
Adam Watkins

Nov 2

Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street
Second book:
Joseph Campbell, Trevor

Nov 9

Putney, Muscular Christianity
Second book:
Martin Luther King, Isaac

Nov 16

Hart, American Catholic
Second book: Late, Great Planet Earth,

Nov 23

No class: Thanksgiving Break

Nov 30

Lane, Surge of Piety; Sutton, American Apocalypse

Dec 12

Final paper due