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.
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.