History 4485

The History of American Religion Since 1865

Fall 2006



Instructor: Dr. Dan Williams                                                                  Class Location:

Office Hours: TLC 3225                                                                       Pafford 204

            T, Th, 11:00-12:30                                                                   T, Th, 2-3:15

            W, 10-12, 1:00-4:30

            (and by appointment)

Email: dkw@westga.edu

Phone: 678-839-6046

Course website: www.westga.edu/~dkwillia






This course will examine the history of religious beliefs and practices in the United States from 1865 to the present.  We will look at theological developments in America’s religious organizations, and will also discuss the way that religion affected Americans’ daily lives.  We will also examine the intersection between religion, society, culture, and politics, and will explore the ways in which social culture influences religious belief or religion influences politics and culture.  You will discover some of the ways in which our understanding of American history might change if we include religion in our framework of historical analysis. 


This course will provide a comprehensive survey of the major religions of the United States, including Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and a variety of other Christian and non-Christian religious traditions.  At several points throughout the course, we will discuss the role that religious traditions outside of Christianity and Judaism have played in the United States, and will discuss Americans’ reactions to the emergence of new religions.  This course will also examine secularism as a belief system in American society, and will study its influence on American religious culture.


This course will examine the way in which race, gender, ethnicity, and social class have affected Americans’ religious practices.  We will also explore the ways in which Americans’ religious beliefs have affected their behavior and their understanding of the world, including their understanding of race and gender roles.


Classes will consist mainly of interactive lectures and class discussions.  I encourage all students to participate by asking questions during lectures and making comments during discussion sessions.  Six classes will be devoted entirely to discussions of the reading material, and the lecture-based classes will include some discussion time, as well.


Learning Outcomes:


This course will help you to develop critical thinking skills and the ability to analyze opposing points of view.  By the end of this course, you should have a broad understanding of faith traditions in the United States, the opposing viewpoints in contemporary and historical debates about the role of religion in society, and the ways in which Americans have constructed (and continue to construct) their religious beliefs and practices.  You will be able to analyze the way in which religion has influenced the choices that Americans have made from 1865 to the present.  You will gain a better understanding of American culture, society, and politics through knowledge of the nation’s religious traditions.  This course will also help you to improve your writing, research, and communication skills.





Students’ final grades will be determined as follows:

      Midterm exam                                            15%

      Book analysis (or analyses)                         15%

      Research paper                                          30%    

      Class participation                                      20%

      Final exam                                                  20%


There will be no opportunity for extra-credit assignments in this course.


Grading Methodology: This university does not use a plus / minus grading system, but during the course of the semester, I will use plus / minus grades, as well as split-letter grades (e.g., an A- / B+), in order to evaluate students’ written work with precision.  In computing final course grades, I convert all grades into numeric scores according to the following system:

A = 95


A- = 92

A-/B+ = 90

B+ = 88

B+/B = 87

B = 85

B/B- = 84

B- = 82

B-/C+ = 80

(A similar pattern is used for grades in the C-range and D-range).


In computing final course grades, a grade average of 89.5 or higher converts to a course grade of A, a grade average between 79.5 and 89.49 converts to a course grade of B, and a grade average between 69.5 and 79.49 converts to a course grade of C.  A grade average of 59.5, which converts to a D, is the lowest possible passing grade in the course.


A-range grades, including the grade of A-/B+, are reserved for work that is of exceptional quality.  In order to receive an A-range grade on an essay assignment, a student’s essay must show evidence of original thinking and the ability to synthesize information from a wide variety of sources, as well as an accurate understanding of the material and good writing technique.  Papers that receive a grade of 90 or above must be cogent and persuasive in their argumentation, and they must be well written and tightly organized around a strong thesis.  In short, a paper that receives an A-range grade not only meets the basic requirements for the assignment, but also demonstrates that a student has mastered the interpretative, analytical, and writing skills expected for a course at this level.


B-range grades are given to essays that demonstrate a student’s accurate understanding of the material, adequate use of the assigned documents, and competence in writing.  They rarely contain the sophisticated analysis required for an A-range essay, but they meet the requirements and expectations for the assignment.


C-range grades are given to essays that contain factual inaccuracies, errors in interpretation, inadequate use of the assigned documents, or poor writing technique, even though they usually meet most of the basic requirements for the assignment.


D-range and failing grades are assigned to work that fails to meet the requirements and expectations for the assignment.


Exams: There will be one midterm exam and a take-home final exam.  The midterm exam will consist of essay questions and I.D. terms, and it will emphasize broad themes presented in the lectures, discussions, and readings.  One week before the exam, you will receive a study guide that will give you more information about the material covered on the test.  I will give a make-up exam only in cases of a pre-arranged, excused absence for which documentation must be provided, or in cases of a legitimate health or family emergency that must be documented with a doctor’s note, dean’s note, or similar measure of proof.  In all other cases, a make-up exam will not be an option.


The take-home final exam will consist of essay questions.  I will give you the exam on Thursday, November 30, and you will have until 4pm on Tuesday, December 5 to write 7-10 pages in response to the essay questions. 


Book analyses and research papers: You are required to write EITHER two two-page summaries of two of the books that you read for class discussion OR one 4-6 page summary of one of the books that you read for this course.  Each of those analyses is due on the date on which the class discussion for the book is scheduled.  A short book analysis should give a brief summary of the book while highlighting the author’s thesis or point of view, and it should give a brief evaluation of the historical significance of the subject.  A longer book review should cover similar themes, but should also include a lengthier analysis of the subject’s relationship to broader historical trends discussed in the textbook and in lectures. 


You will also be expected to write one 6-8 page research paper for this course.  Consult the guidelines for research papers for more information about this assignment.     


Papers that are turned in after the assigned date will be marked down 1/3 of a letter grade for each day they are overdue. 


It should go without saying that all papers that you write must be your own work, and that any students who are caught plagiarizing another student’s work, a paper from a web site, a textbook, or any other source will automatically fail this course and may be subject to further disciplinary action.  Plagiarism is a serious offense that will not be tolerated. 


All of your written work for this class must be original; you are not allowed to submit essays that you have written for other courses or that you have completed prior to this semester.


Class participation: Classes will consist of interactive lectures, which will give you a chance to ask questions and discuss the ideas presented in the readings.  In addition, there are six class periods reserved for discussion of the assigned books.  It is very important for you to read these books prior to the class discussions so that you can come to class prepared to participate.  Failure to attend these discussions will adversely affect your class participation grade.  I do not have a formal attendance policy, but since students cannot participate in class discussions if they do not attend class, habitual absences, as well as habitual silence in class throughout the semester, could negatively affect a student’s class participation grade. 


In addition, as part of your class participation, you should email me short, one-paragraph summaries of each of the six books that we discuss in class, with the exception of the book(s) for which you write a book analysis.  These emails should consist of five or six sentences that briefly summarize the book and suggest at least one intriguing question for class discussion.  Each of these emails is due at noon (two hours prior to class) on the day on which we are scheduled to discuss the book in question.  I will not assign these emails a letter grade, nor will I evaluate them on the basis of grammar or structure, but I will instead treat them as I would comments that you make in class, and I will consider their content when I formulate class participation grades at the end of the semester.  


Class communication: I may send out periodic email communiqués to students in this course, so please check your UWG email account regularly.  The university administration has stipulated that all email communication between faculty and students should take place on UWG email accounts, so please use your UWG email account for all electronic communications that you send me. 


University policy also prevents me from disclosing grades over email, so if you would like to discuss your grade on any assignment in the class, please set up an appointment to meet with me in my office.  Please do not email me with a request for your grades, since I am not allowed to email that information to you. 


To protect students’ privacy rights, I will not return graded papers or exams to any third party (e.g., a student’s friend or relative who asks to pick up a student’s work on that person’s behalf) unless a student gives me permission in writing (e.g., an email) to do so.  There are occasions when I must disclose a student’s grade to university administrators, other history department faculty (e.g., the department chair), or athletic coaches who need to know the academic status of students on their team, but in all other cases, I will make every effort to maintain the confidentiality of students’ grades.


I would like to do whatever I can to help you succeed in this course.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have a question about any subject pertaining to this class.  I make it a priority to respond promptly to emails from students, and I am happy to talk with students during my office hours, so please feel free to stop by my office to introduce yourself and discuss any concerns that you may have about this course.  I believe that this will be an excellent semester, and I’m pleased to welcome you to this class.



Required readings:


The following texts are available in the college bookstore, and are required:


Edwin Gaustad and Leigh Schmidt, The Religious History of America: The Heart of the

      American Story from Colonial Times to Today (revised ed., 2004)

Charles M. Sheldon, In His Steps

Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing

      Debate Over Science and Religion

Eileen M. McMahon, What Parish Are You From? A Chicago Irish Community and Race


Charles Marsh, God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights

Debra Renee Kaufman, Rachel’s Daughters: Newly Orthodox Jewish Women

Randall Balmer, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical

      Subculture of America
Class Schedule:


Please complete assigned readings before class.


8/15     Introduction: Why Study the History of American Religion?


8/17     “A House Divided”: American Protestantism in the Aftermath of the Civil War

            Gaustad and Schmidt, ch. 9 (pp. 184-205)

            Henry Ward Beecher, “Evolution and Religion” (1881)


 Alexander Walters, My Life and Work, pp. 95-98, 107-113. (http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/walters/walters.html)


8/22     Immigrant Religions: Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Judaism in America’s Cities

            Gaustad and Schmidt, ch. 10 (pp. 209-230)

Principles of Reform Judaism (http://www.myjewishlearning.com/history_community/Modern/ModernReligionCulture/MoreEmergence/Reform/Pittsburgh_Platform.htm)

James Cardinal Gibbons, Memorial on the Knights of Labor, 1887 (http://libraries.cua.edu/achrcua/Knights/document18.htm - click on document image for complete text)


8/24     Beyond the Protestant Consensus: Alternative Religions in the Late Victorian Era

            “Professor Hare’s Spiritual Telegraph” (http://www.spirithistory.com/hare.html)


8/29     The Social Gospel: Protestant and Catholic Theology

            Gaustad and Schmidt, ch. 11 (pp. 231-254)

Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (http://www.historytools.org/sources/Rauschenbusch.pdf)


8/31     The Social Gospel: Women in an Age of Reform

Mrs. Wilson Holt, Presidential Address, Minnesota WCTU, 1878 (http://sadl.uleth.ca/nz/collect/whist/import/complete/womhist.binghamton.edu/wctu/doc1.htm)

            Research Paper Topic Due.


9/5       The Social Gospel in Action: Revivalists and Missionaries

            Billy Sunday, “The Need for Revival” (http://www.biblebelievers.com/billy_sunday/sun2.html)

            Mrs. J.N.W. Farnham, “Woman’s Work for Woman” (1885) (http://chnm.gmu.edu/wwh/modules/lesson10/lesson10.php?menu=1&s=9)

            Gaustad and Schmidt, ch. 12 (pp. 255-276)


9/7       Discussion of In His Steps       


9/12     The Azusa Street Revival

            Testimonies from the Azusa Street Revival (http://www.christianword.org/revival/azusa.html)


9/14     The Fundamentalist Controversy

            Gaustad and Schmidt, ch. 13 & 14 (pp. 277-321)

            William Jennings Bryan, “The Menace of Evolution” (http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/day7.htm)

            Research Paper Source List Due.


9/19     Jesus in a Business Suit: Mainline Protestantism in the 1920s

            Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” 



9/21     Discussion of Summer for the Gods

Transcript from the Scopes trial (http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/day7.htm)


9/26     The Reemergence of Anti-Catholicism              

Thomas Heflin, Warning Against the “Roman Catholic Party,” 1928 (http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5073/)

Charles Marshall, “Should a Catholic Be President?,” 1927 (http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5074/)

Sister Margaret Meyers’s Recollections of the KKK’s Anti-Catholic Activities in Oregon (http://libraries.cua.edu/achrcua/OSC/document9.htm)


9/28     The Religion of the Harlem Renaissance

            Marcus Garvey, Excerpts from his writings



10/3     Christianity During the Depression

Reinhold Niebuhr, “Our Secularized Civilization”


            Father Charles Coughlin, Radio Addresses (http://www.ssa.gov/history/fcspeech.html; audio file: http://www.ssa.gov/history/coughlinradio.html)


10/5     Midterm Exam


10/10   No class (Fall break)


10/12   Cold War Christianity

            Gaustad and Schmidt, ch. 15 (pp. 329-348)

Billy Graham, Sermon, 1957 (http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/exhibits/NYC57/13sample68-1.htm)


10/17   Protestant, Catholic, Jew: The Ecumenicalism of the 1950s

Bishop Fulton Sheen, “A Philosophy of Life” (http://www.fisheaters.com/sheen.html)


10/19   Discussion of What Parish Are You From?


10/24   The Black Church in the Civil Rights Movement

            Gaustad and Schmidt, ch. 17 (pp. 374-397)

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail (http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html)

Martin Luther King, Jr., “The American Dream” (http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/publications/sermons/650704_The_American_Dream.html)


10/26   The Prophetic Church: Theologies of Social Justice in the 1960s

Dorothy Day, Excerpt from The Catholic Worker, 1972 (http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/daytext.cfm?TextID=519)

            First Draft of Research Paper Due.


10/31   Discussion of God’s Long Summer


11/2     Catholicism after Vatican II

            “Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Catholic Political Responsibility”


Richard John Neuhaus, “Bishops at a Turning Point,” 2004 (http://www.priestsforlife.org/government/mcmanus.htm)


11/7     From New Age Religion to the Jesus People: Non-Traditional Religious Movements of the 1960s and 1970s

            Hare Krishna (http://www.harekrishna.com/)

            Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, ch. 11



11/9     The Resurgence of Conservative Religion

            Chuck Smith, Harvest (http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/smith.htm)


11/14   Religion and the Politics of Sex and Gender

Merlin Stone, “When God Was a Woman” (1976) (http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/whm2000/stone2.html)

            Nelia Beth Scovill, “The Liberation of Women in Religious Sources” (http://www.religiousconsultation.org/liberation.htm)

Elisabeth Elliot, “The Essence of Femininity,” pp. 400-404 (http://www.cbmw.org/rbmw/rbmw.pdf)


11/16   Discussion of Rachel’s Daughters

            Research Paper Due.


11/21   The Christian Right

            Gaustad and Schmidt, ch. 16 (pp. 349-373)

            Jerry Falwell, Listen America




11/23   No class (Thanksgiving break)


11/28   Discussion of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory


11/30   Faith in an Age of Religious Pluralism

            Gaustad and Schmidt, ch. 18 (pp. 398-427)

Parvez Ahmed, “American Muslims and ‘Integration’” (http://www.amperspective.com/html/integration_by_parvez.html)

            Take-home final exam distributed.


12/5     Take-home final exam due at 4pm.