I’m finally surfacing from the hectic start of semester and wanted to write a couple of posts about the history course I’m teaching in American religious pluralism this fall at Worcester State. It’s an upper-level history elective called “Religions in America,” and in previous versions I’ve taught it mainly as an introduction to American religious diversity… sort of a “religious literacy” exercise in which students depart the course knowing a little something about many things rather than having deep knowledge of a few things. This term, however, I’ve focused the course more narrowly on the history of the idea (and imperfect implementation over time) of American religious pluralism. I wrote about the process of revising the course in perhaps nauseating detail earlier this year, but then I pretty much reinvented it again for the final version of the syllabus, so an update might be worthwhile.
Course Readings: various PDF articles & primary sources, plus these three books –
David Sehat, The Myth of American Religious Freedom (2011)
David L. Chappell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (2007)
Diana Eck, A New Religious America (2002)
Student Learning Outcomes:
On our campus these are formulated to complete the sentence, “By the end of this course, you should be able to…”
- Explain the development of the distinctive American religious experience
- Craft a robust working definition of religion
- Increase your individual religious and historical literacy; hone moral, ethical and historical thinking
- Document local and national religious landscapes
- Demonstrate the ability to interpret cultural texts
Students write a few response papers in preparation for class discussion, and share links/articles/current events on an online discussion board in preparation for “Friday Forums” where we talk about new religion news (they are supposed to subscribe to or follow several religion news blogs). So far, these have been our liveliest discussions. They also write a research term paper in the realm of 8-10 pages.
Students will also conduct a site visit to a local religious community’s worship service and from their field notes write a profile of this local congregation. The project is a very small-scale version of Diana Eck’s Boston area Pluralism project, and their profiles will be posted on DigitalWorcester, an Omecka archive of local history projects that students in my various classes have been creating since 2008 (the site is currently under renovation, I’ll update the link when it’s back in business later in the semester). This is a key project, in my mind, because Worcester is an incredibly religiously diverse city with a vibrant mix of old ethnic/immigrant churches (Armenian, Orthodox, Slavic, Swedish, Jewish…etc) and newer ones (Buddhist, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Ghanaian…) and we will never run out of congregations to document and visit.
So that’s my course in a nutshell. And in another post I’ll talk in more detail about the spots where I’ve incorporated Mormon-related topics in the class.