This course seeks to answer the question: what is the role of American religion in constructing an American civil society? To answer this question, we will move in four units, which are each correlated to books that will be required reading in this class.
First, we will explore the making of a contested Anglo-Saxon Protestant consensus by reading David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. The objective of this first unit is for students to understand that the forms of American Protestantism that went into the making of early (white) American religion were themselves contested, for they were political theologies in their own right. As Fischer himself shows, various contradictory strands of English Protestantism (and to Jon Butler’s point, Protestantism that often covered up the actual lived religious practice of religious eclecticism) went into the fashioning of American notions of liberty.
We will move in the second unit to the expansion of the Protestant consensus toward a form of American religious pluralism. To do that, we will read the classic in sociology of religion, Will Herberg’s Protestant-Catholic–Jew. In this unit, we will discuss the rise of forms of liberal and neo-orthodox Protestant theologies, the incorporation of Roman Catholicism and American Judaism into American polity, and nagging question of whether such pluarlization in fact represents forms of Protestantization.
Having pushed the Protestant consensus to the extreme, we will then explore the politics of race in American religion, especially as racialized religious communities construct alternate geographies to the one privileged by a focus on the trans-Atlantic migrations of Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Here, we will read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, as well as shorter pieces by religion-and-race scholars such as Jane Iwamura, David Yoo, Andrea Smith, and Tom Tweed.
Finally, we will conclude the course with a unit on American fundamentalism, in which we will consider whether fundamentalism is in fact the reassertion of a Protestant consensus in the face of pluralization and the making of alternate religious geographies in American religion. We will read George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture while also assigning students to attend a megachurch in Seattle of their church, comparing and contrasting Marsden with the practices of fundamentalism that they observe at the megachurch.