What are the essential primary documents for teaching the American religious history survey? We all answer this question, more or less satisfactorily, every time we piece together a syllabus for the course.
I'm facing it in a new way these days, as I've been charged with pulling together the latest edition of A Documentary History of Religion in America, first edited by Edwin Gaustad and most recently by Mark Noll. I used the Gaustad/Noll reader one of the first times I taught the survey, because I liked the length and variety of the individual documents. However, I haven't ordered it since, mainly because of the fact that it is two hefty volumes - a bit overwhelming, both in terms of cost and pages (1377 in total!), for my students.
This new edition will be a single volume that checks in at under 700 pages. That's right, 700 pages. That means a whole lot of documents are going to end up on the cutting room floor. I don't expect you all to agonize with me over what should stay and what should go, let alone (gulp) what's missing and needs to be added into the mix (though, if you've used the Gaustad/Noll reader and have opinions, please don't hesitate to let me know!).
But I thought that, in the tried-and-true spirit of crowd-sourcing, it might benefit all of us to share some of those documents that we've found most helpful in the classroom. I'll start. One source I always love teaching is Thomas
Bacon's "A Sermon to Maryland Slaves, 1749," which I first stumbled
across in Jon Butler and Harry Stout's excellent reader, Religion in American History. The document works well for any number of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that Bacon justifies slavery not in terms of race but rather divinely-ordained hierarchies ("God hath appointed several Offices and Degrees in his Family..."). By the time my students wrap their minds around that, we've made a lot of headway in terms of them realizing that the past is, indeed, a foreign place.
What about you? Are there particular sources that you've found to be invaluable in the survey? Others that you find difficult to teach? What makes your cut?