This course provides both a chronological and thematic overview of the history of religion, political culture, and society in twentieth century America. While moving sequentially through key transformations running from the beginning to end of the century, we will also pause each week to examine particular episodes and themes that illuminate substantive and symbolic societal turns. Specifically, this course will encourage us to think more deeply about the ways religious ideas, institutions, and individuals intersect with and weave through broad political developments like populism and progressivism, corporate and labor activism, the rise and decline of New Deal liberalism, war and American empire building, the power shift to the Sunbelt, urban and suburban power struggles, social movements of the Left and the Right, the politics of family, education, and community, civil rights and ethnic identity, conservatism and globalization. The overarching goal of this course is to place religion at the center of political development in the twentieth century, and at the center of our understanding of this recent past. Here religion will not (as is often done by political historians) be cordoned off as an agent of change worthy of consideration only under exceptional circumstances and in rare moments, but rather be considered as a consistent, powerful player that always brings competing passions and interests, drama and controversy to the political realm. This primary agenda will be accompanied by a couple of others. In addition to absorbing the historical “facts and figures” of religion and politics in the twentieth century (on which students will be tested), students will also be encouraged to encounter and critique different styles of historical writing, from biographies and autobiographies to traditional monographs, articles and essays to editorials. What makes “good writing”? “Good history writing”? What are the challenges inherent to writing effective religious and political history? This set of issues will be important for us to consider, because they lead to yet a final set of questions: how does one actually go about researching history? Writing it? In addition to taking time for extensive reading in this subject area, students will also be expected to complete a major term paper based on both primary and secondary sources. Students will begin this project early in the semester and, while in consultation with members of their peer group and me, see it through to its conclusion by the last week of class.
- Fall 2013: taught by Prof. Darren Dochuk