Religion in America:
Sociological and Historical Perspectives
University of Missouri-Kansas City
College of Arts and Sciences
|Location: Royall Hall 111||Time: Tuesday/Thursday: 9:30-10:45|
Dana Evan Kaplan
204D Haag Hall
Douglas E. Cowan
204C Haag Hall
The United States remains the most religiously diverse country in the world. While there is a popular myth abroad that the country was founded on "Judeo-Christian principles" by men and women who believed then much as do evangelical Protestants today, such is more fable than history. Rather, religious diversity, founded on the principle that men and women have the right to worship as they choose, has been a pillar in the foundation of American society since its inception. Indeed, there are few religions in the world which are not represented in the United States today.
This course is an introduction to the spectrum of religious faith, belief, and practice in the United States. In addition to a number of different Christianities, we will be exploring world faiths such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. We will dip into the domain of emerging new religions: Wicca and Neopaganism, UFO religions, and the New Age. Along the way, there are certain questions we will keep in mind: Why do people believe as they do? Why do religions change? Why do some religions decline and others increase? What does it mean to be "a religious person"?
Religion has played an integral part in the evolution not only of American society, but of the world. And, as ought to be obvious to anyone even reasonably aware of current events, one thing remains clear: it is impossible to understand the way the world has developed and the way in which it is developing now without understanding the place of religion in social and cultural life.
Corbett, Julia Mitchell. 2000. Religion in America, 4th edition.
Prentice Hall. (Nb. Only the 4th edition is acceptable.)
Kaplan, Dana Evan. 2001. Contemporary Debates in American Reform Judaism: Conflicting Visions. Routledge.
Class Assignments and Student Evaluation:
- Each student will prepare a one-page outline, typed and double-spaced, for each of the readings on electronic reserve (Eres). This outline should summarize the main points of each reading. With the exception of McLellan, "Opening," outlines for each week are due at the beginning of class each Tuesday.
(Total: 10% all or nothing)
- Each student will prepare for class by answering the questions drawn from Corbett as indicated for that week. Answers should be based on the readings, and limited to one-page per question, typed and double-spaced. Students should feel free to raise their own questions as generated by the readings. Questions for each week are due at the beginning of class each Thursday.
(Total: 15% all or nothing)
- There will be three in-class tests as scheduled. Tests will cover the substantive and conceptual material from readings, class lectures, and discussions.
Attendance: It is expected that all students will be in attendance at all class sessions. Cell 'phones and pagers must be turned off. If this policy is not followed, you will be asked to leave and not readmitted to the class. Our commitment to you is that class will begin and end promptly. We expect that your commitment to us, and to your classmates, will be your prompt attendance and participation. If you come late to class, you will not be admitted.
In-class conversation: Since this is a fairly large class, with over one hundred students, there will be no tolerance for conversation not directly related to the topic at hand. If this policy is not followed, you will be asked to leave and not readmitted to the class. Please respect both your instructors and your fellow classmates in this.
Graduate Students: Please note that if you are registering for this class as a graduate student (i.e., History 500RK or Sociology 580CP), there will be an increased workload, and you should see either Dr. Cowan or Dr. Kaplan immediately following the first class. In addition to the work required of undergraduates, you will be required to write three book reviews on books chosen in consultation with us, and one due the day of each in-class examination. An evaluation for each will be recorded and factored into your final grade.
To access electronic reserve readings:
The Electronic Reserve system (Eres) is designed to allow students to access reserve reading materials from their home computer or computer workstations here on campus. Once you have accessed the readings for the week, they can be downloaded in Portable Document Format (.pdf). This requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader. If this is not already installed on your computer, it may be downloaded free of charge at (http://www.adobe.com). Click on the "Get Acrobat reader button" at the bottom of the home page, and follow the directions to the "Free Reader." Since the readings are required and an assignment is attached to each, we strongly encourage students to download and print a number of readings at a time.NB: Do not wait until the last minute.
Excuses regarding computer malfunction or failure will not be accepted.
To download and print Eres material:
1. Go to the Miller Nichols Library website (http://www.umkc.edu/lib/).
2. Click on "Miller Nichols Library."
3. Click on "Reserve Materials."
4. Click on "Eres" service.
5. Click on "Electronic Reserves and Course Materials." If you are reading this online, you can go right from here.
6. Under "Select an Instructor," choose either "Cowan, Douglas," or Kaplan, Dana." Click "Go."
7. Click hyperlink for "Religion in America."
8. Click "Accept."
9. Click hyperlink for appropriate reading (see Master List of Readings below); .pdf readings will open in a new window. Print readings using the "Print" function on the .pdf window.
10. Prepare a brilliant outline, and participate boldly in class.
Master List of Eres Readings:
Note: These are in alphabetical order by author, and DO NOT correspond either to the Eres arrangement online or to the schedule of readings for class. For scheduled readings, refer to the matrix below.
Albanese, Catherine L. "Middle East: Islam."
Anway, Carol. "American Women Choosing Islam."
Balch, Robert. "Waiting for the Ships: Disillusionment and the Revitalization of Faith in Bo and Peep's UFO Cult."
Bruce, Steve. "The Moral Majority: The Politics of Fundamentalism in Secular Society."
Cox, Harvey. "Enlightenment by Ticketron: American Society and the Turn East."
Cuneo, Michael. "Introduction" to The Smoke of Satan.
Dolan, Jay P. "A New Catholicism."
Eiesland, Nancy. "A Strange Road Home: Adult Female Converts to Classical Pentecostalism."
Esposito, John L. "Islam in the World and in America."
Hoge, Dean, Benton Johnson, and Gerd Luidens. "Why Mainline Churches are Declining."
Johnson, Gregory. "The Hare Krishna in San Francisco."
Kelly, Aidan. "An Update on Neopagan Witchcraft in America."
Kelley, Dean. "Is Religion Obsolete?"
McLellan, Scotty. "Opening."
McNamara, Patrick H. "Conscience First, Tradition Second."
Nattier, Jan. "Who is a Buddhist? Charting the Landscape of Buddhist America."
Ostling, Richard, and Ostling, Joan. "Beginnings: A Very American Gospel."
Penton, M. James. "The Beginning of a Movement."
Provenzo, Eugene F. "Censorship and the Ultra-Fundamentalists."
Roof, Wade Clark, and William McKinney. "The Fragmented Mainline."
Said, Edward. "Introduction to the Vintage Edition."
Shupe, Anson. "Christian Reconstructionism and the Angry Rhetoric of Neo-Postmillenialism."
Stark, Rodney, and Roger Finke. "Secularization, RIP."
Synan, Vinson. "The African-American Pentecostals."
Tworkov, Helen. "Zen in America."
Wolfe, Alan. "Quiet Faith."
Wuthnow, Robert. "Old Fissures and New Fractures in American Religious Life."
Dates Topic Required reading Weekly Assignments Jan. 15 Introduction to the course Jan. 17 Why study religion?
The role of religion in society.
Introduction to weekly outlines.
Questions 1, 2, 5.
Jan. 22-24 Religion in the Life of the United States Corbett, pp. 21-40
"Old Fissures and New Fractures in American Religious Life"
Questions 1, 3, 5.
Jan. 29-31* The Roman Catholic Church:
From Immigrant to President
"A New Catholicism"
"Introduction" to The Smoke of Satan
"Conscience First, Tradition Second"
Questions 3, 6, 8.
Feb. 5-7 Consensus Protestants:
Surveying the Mainstream
"Is Religion Obsolete?"
"The Fragmented Mainline"
"Why Mainline Churches are Declining"
Questions 1, 8, 11.
Feb. 12 In-class Quiz #1 (25%) Feb. 14-26* Crossing Delancey:
Jews in the United States
Dana Kaplan, ed., American Reform Judaism
1. Kaplan, pp.1-65
2. Kaplan, pp.90-127
3. Kaplan, pp.131-167; 221-234
4. Kaplan, pp.171-206
Questions 6, 9 (Wk 1)
Questions 7, 11 (Wk 2)
Outlines for Kaplan chapters.
Feb. 28- March 5 Home-grown Christianities Corbett, pp.141-163
"Beginnings: A Very American Gospel"
"The Beginning of a Movement"
Questions 1, 4, 6.
March 7* The Secularization Process:
Humanism, Agnosticism, Atheism
Questions 1, 4, 7.
Mar. 12-14 Spring Break: No classes Mar. 19-21* Conservative Christianities Corbett, pp.164-201
"The Moral Majority"
"Censorship and the Ultra-Fundamentalists"
"A Strange Road Home"
Questions 1, 3, 5.
Mar. 26 In-class Quiz #2 (25%) Mar.28-Apr.2* Muslims in the United States Corbett, pp. 231-247
"Islam in the World and in America"
"Middle East: Islam"
Questions 3, 4.
April 4-9 Islam in Popular Consciousness:
Before and after 09/11/01
"Introduction to the Vintage Edition"
"American Women Choosing Islam"
Eres Outlines Apr.11* Ethnic Christianities Corbett, pp.201-230
"The African-American Pentecostals"
Questions 1, 5, 8.
April 16-18 Light from the East:
Hinduism and Buddhism
"Enlightenment by Ticketron"
"Who is a Buddhist?"
"Zen in America"
Questions 6, 7, 9.
April 23-25 Light from Outer Space:
Cults and New Religious Movements
Corbett, pp. 277-334
"Waiting for the Ships"
"An Update on Neopagan Witchcraft in America"
"The Hare Krishna in San Francisco"
Questions 1, 4, 7.
April 30 In-class Quiz #3 (25%)
This syllabus is also available online at: