Special Topics in Religion. 3 Semester Credit Hours.

This course is a study of civil religion.  It examines the debate in Western political thought concerning the nature of civil religion and the American approach to civil religion from the colonial period to the present.

Course Overview.

This course adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the study of civil religion.  One approach focuses on political philosophy.  It examines how various political thinkers have dealt with the problem of competing claims of authority in society, namely, religious authority and political authority.  Major thinkers include, but are not limited to, Rousseau, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Smith, Mill, Nietzsche, Weber, and Rawls.  The second approach is historical.  It examines the role played by civil religion in the life of the United States from its colonial beginnings to the present.  Special attention will be paid to the impact of civil religion on the institutions of American government (legislative, executive, judicial, and the bureaucracy).

Course Objective.

The main objective of this course is to familiarize students with one of the most enduring problems in Western political thought; namely, how should those who wield political authority respond to those who wield religious authority?  By examining the ways in which the American people have answered this question, students will gain a better understanding of American political culture.  By extension this understanding of political culture will enhance their ability to engage in dialogue with others in matters concerning legal, political, and social conflicts.

Student Learning Outcomes.

The following suggests the essence of the course.  Upon completion the student will be able to:

  1. Explain the problem of competing claims of authority in society, namely, religious authority and political authority.
  2. Explain the various solutions to this problem as outlined by major political thinkers including Rousseau, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Smith, Mill, Nietzsche, Weber, Heidegger, Rawls, and others.
  3. Describe American civil religion as it has been expressed throughout the history of the nation from colonial times to the present, including Puritan New England, the Revolutionary War and founding era, the antebellum period, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Progressive era, the Great Depression, and the post-World War II era.
  4. Discuss current political debates through the lens of American civil religion.
  5. Explain the impact of civil religion on the institutions of American government (legislative, executive, judicial, and the bureaucracy).
  6. Critique the concept of civil religion in terms of its philosophical underpinnings and its usefulness in explaining American history and political culture.
  7. Conduct scholarly research related to the field of civil religion.

Required Reading and Textbook(s).

Beiner, Ronald.  2011.  Civil Religion: A Dialogue in the History of Political Philosophy.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gorski, Philip.  2017.  American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the

Present.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Additional reading will be required as it relates to specific assignments.  There is no required textbook for these readings.  They will be available to the students via the internet or library reserves.

Proposal for the Research Paper (1@70points). 

  1. Learning Outcomes Targeted: 7.
  2. To successfully complete this assignment, the student must write a proposal for the research paper.
  3. The proposal must include the following elements.
    1. A general description of the paper’s topic. (20 points possible)
    1. A review of literature.  See “How to Write a Proposal for the Research Paper” under “Modules” on Canvas for complete details on what needs to be included in the review. (30 points possible)
    1. A description of source material that you will likely consult.  (20 points possible)
  4. Late policy:
    1. Late proposals will lose five (5) points.
    1. Proposals turned in after a student submits the final draft of the research paper will lose thirty-five 35 points.  This is in addition to a late penalty.

Research Paper (1@200 points). 

  1. Learning Outcomes (listed above) Targeted: 1-7 (depending on student research topics).
  2. To successfully complete this assignment, the student must select a topic related to civil religion and research it in detail.  Students are not allowed to research a topic that is the focus of a class discussion or the topic paper.
  3. The paper must include the following elements:
    1. An introduction to your research project.  Introduce the reader to your topic and its importance to the study of religion and politics.  In addition, define key terms or themes that are at the center of your narrative.
    1. A review of literature to include existing scholarship related to your topic.  See “How to Write Your Research Paper Proposal” located under “Modules” for complete details on the review of literature.
    1. A specific argument.  This means that I want the student to argue a specific point.  Frame your narrative around defending this argument.
    1. Supporting evidence for the argument.  I expect to see quality academic source material cited in the paper.  See “Expectations for Quality Research and Writing” located under “Modules” for complete details.
    1. A conclusion to summarize and state your findings.
  4. Submitting the papers.  See “Submitting Exams and Papers.”
  5. Late Policy:  Late papers will lose fifteen (15) points
  • Guidelines:
    • Length:  Five (5) to seven (7) pages(double spaced).
    • One-inch margins (top, bottom, left, right).
    • Font style/size:  Calibri (Body)/12 point.
    • The paper must be properly documented.
    • Style Manual:  Turabian, Kate L.  2018.  A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.  9th ed.  Revised by Wayne C. Booth, et al.  Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press.
    • Style Form:  Author-Date style.
    • Use Microsoft Word to type your paper.  Wordpad, Pages, Notepad, and other word processors are often incompatible with Canvas.
    • Put your name on the paper.
  • Grades on the paper will be based on:
    • Argument clearly stated:  20 points possible.
    • Quality of the review of literature and supporting evidence:  120 points possible.
    • Extent to which format guidelines are followed:  20 points possible.
    • Extent to which Turabian documentation is followed:  20 points possible.
    • Quality of writing components (style, spelling, grammar, etc.):  20 points possible

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