American Religion and the Politics of Sincerity

  • Faculty: Charlie McCrary
  • Schedule: Mondays/Wednesdays 2:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
  • Course Number: L57 RelPol 234

In the United States, most people assume that to be religious one should be sincere. You should really believe what you say you believe; don’t fake it. Since the mid-twentieth century, courts have used the “sincerity test” for religious claimants, evaluating whether they truly believe, not whether their beliefs are true. In the twenty-first century, state legislators have passed laws protecting citizens’ “sincerely held religious belief.” This course explores these issues of religion, sincerity, and authenticity in American politics and culture. It is not a chronological survey but, rather, a topically organized introduction to some key questions and issues. We will pay particular attention to how racial, gender, national, and religious identities intersect to inform American ideas about sincerity, authenticity, and “realness.” These discussions connect directly to how the law has treated religious believers and the matter of “sincerely held religious belief.” Finally, we will consider how sincerity might help us think about the problems of deliberative democracy and the public sphere in our supposedly “post-truth era.”