Teaching

Religion and Capitalism in the U.S.

George Mason University, spring 2015

It seems obvious that there is some relationship between religion and capitalism, but what is that relationship? Historians of the United States have tried to answer this question in many ways; even more, it was a problem that perplexed the people whom historians study. In this class, you will meet many people whose religion led them to interact with capitalism in incredibly diverse ways. You will meet the Puritans whose work ethic supposedly created capitalism, but who insisted on resting on the Sabbath; Moravian missionaries who made converts and money; slaves, slaveowners, and abolitionists who all claimed the Bible when reckoning with the capitalist system of slavery; a Protestant writer who insisted that Jesus was a businessman, and Catholics who believed Jesus called them to a kind of socialism; Jews who mass-manufactured matzah and who were prosecuted for breaking Sunday “blue laws”; an industrialist who wrote The Gospel of Wealth, and laborers who created churches for the working class; nineteenth-century consumers who turned gift-giving into a ritual, and a twenty-first-century television personality who turned consumption into therapy; converts who thought religion required poverty, and Prosperity Gospelers who thought it promised wealth. You will read primary sources from American history, secondary works in both religious history and the new history of capitalism, and excerpts from theorists of religion and capitalism. Through these readings and your own research project, you are invited make sense of this perpetual historical puzzle.

The Digital Past

George Mason University, spring 2015

In this class, you will to learn to do history using digital tools. The course—which satisfies the university’s IT requirement—teaches the fundamentals of information technology by applying them to a practical problem in history. Throughout the semester, you will work individually and with classmates on a research project about American religious history. You will learn how to do research online, but also how to put those sources in the context of other scholarly work. You will gather data, learn how to question it, analyze it, summarize it, and interpret it. You will create visualizations of datasets, especially maps. But you will also learn how to integrate data with narratives from individual lives. You will learn how to present visual and textual sources online in web exhibits, and you will learn how to write and publish effectively online. Through learning by doing, you will gain many digital skills which are broadly applicable; even more important, you will learn how to use these skills to create arguments and stories. This combination will be useful to you throughout your university career and in your professional life.

Programming in History/New Media

Syllabus and course website | George Mason University, fall 2014

This class will introduce you to the rudiments of programming languages; even more, the class will teach you how to learn how to learn whatever programming techniques you need to solve scholarly problems. We will spend the first month on a general introduction to programming. Most of the course will focus on applying programming techniques to historical research. Each week you will learn a new technique—such as a visualization, mapping, network analysis, text-mining—using real historical data to develop arguments and interpretation. By the end of the semester you will create a programming project of your choice which will help you in your future scholarly research. The main languages that you will learn are JavaScript (a language obligatory for the web but useful for many applications) and R (a statistical programming language well-suited to scholarly purposes), but you are encouraged to learn any language you like for the final project.

Church and State in America

Syllabus and course website | George Mason University, fall 2014

Two of the most pressing questions about American religion and its public role are intertwined: how should religions relate to one another, and how should religions relate to the state? In this class you will take up these questions by studying the interactions of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, and Native American religions with one another and with the federal and state governments. You will investigate how law has regulated the public sphere and the civil square in which religious interactions take place, but also how religious actors have driven those interactions. We will read primary and secondary sources about the American Revolution and disestablishment, moral reform, temperance, and abolition, polygamy, the school system, pacifism, civil rights, and political movements, ranging from the late eighteenth to the late twentieth century.

Mapping Boston’s Religions: A Digital History Seminar

Syllabus | Course Project | Brandeis University, spring 2014

In this course you will read the writings of the many individuals and groups that lived out their religion in the nineteenth-century United States: the alliance of skeptics and believers who supported disestablishment; Baptist and Methodists revivalists; Catholic priests, missionaries, and animists; founders of new religions such as Mormonism and Christian Science; Reform and Orthodox Jews; African-Americans; metaphysicians; liberal and conservative Protestants; agnostics and atheists. We will make sense of that diversity by asking and answering a set of unifying questions: How did mainstream and minority faiths relate to one another, especially in the public sphere? How did people experience religion in their everyday lives? How did religious people change laws and society? How did new forms of religious expression develop? How were new religions founded? How were religions imported from Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, and how did those religions adapt? How did Americans become more religious and more secular at the same time? The centerpiece of this class will be a digital history project: you will do your own original research into nineteenth-century sources to make a digital map of religion in Boston over the nineteenth century. Creating this project will teach you the skills of a historian—researching, writing, analyzing—and will let you put what you’ll learn in this class to work on the ground. In this history class as shop class, you’ll also learn digital and project skills—publishing, mapping, encoding, collaborating, communicating, managing—that are widely useful in government, business, and research outside the academy.

Religious Pluralism and the American State

Syllabus | Brandeis University, fall 2012

Two of the most pressing questions about American religion and its public role are intertwined: how should religions relate to one another, and how should religions relate to the state? In this class you will take up these two questions through the historical analysis of texts about the interactions of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, and Native American religions with one another and with the federal and state governments. You will investigate how law has regulated the public sphere and the civil square in which religious interactions take place, but also how religious actors have driven those interactions. We will trace the history of American pluralism, from the fact of diversity in eighteenth century to the idea of pluralism in the twenty-first century. Because this is a writing seminar, you will write three essays: one expositing a document about a religious conflict, a second interacting with other historians’ interpretations, and a third based on original research into religious conflict.