Teaching the Historiography Seminar in American Religions

Today we welcome to RiAH as a guest contributor Jennifer Graber. Professor Graber, a historian of North American religions, teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. She is working on a book called “Indian Country: Land and Religion in Nineteenth-Century America.” Her first book, The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons andReligion in Antebellum America, came out from UNC Press in 2011.

Jennifer Graber

This fall, I’ll be teaching a graduate historiography seminar called Approaches to the Study of U.S. Religions. I taught this class for the first time in 2013. At that time, I picked a theme for each week, assigned an important book for students to read, and assigned some secondary texts to cover during the seminar meeting. For example, for our consideration of the early republic and antebellum era, we read Butler’s Awash in a Sea of Faith, as well as discussed works by Hatch, Heyrman, Albanese, and Porterfield. This approach had its merits, namely that students engaged what are considered to be the most important books in the field. But it also had its drawbacks. Several of our central texts were fairly old.

For this fall, I hatched a new plan in which I picked many of the same themes, but paired a classic text with an updated one. Every week, a student will lead discussion about the paired common readings. Other students will provide short accounts of the secondary readings, which will help flesh out the historiography of each of the week’s themes. At the end of the semester, students will put together similar reading lists on two themes, one related to their research and one outside their expertise. 

I’m happy to hear your feedback.

August 26 – Opening Questions and Recent Appraisals

Common reading:

Lofton, "The Problem of Religion in History," historiographical essay, in draft

September 2 – Field Assessments and Methodological Statements

Common readings:
  • David D. Hall, “Introduction,” in Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice (1997)
  • Thomas Tweed, “Introduction: Narrating U.S. Religious History,” in Retelling U.S. Religious History (1997)
  • Jon Butler, “Jack-in-the-Box Faith: The Religion Problem in Modern American History,” The Journal of American History (2004)
  • Kevin M. Schultz and Paul Harvey, “Everywhere and Nowhere: Recent Trends in American Religious History and Historiography,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2010).
  • Thomas Tweed, “Expanding the Study of U.S. Religion: Reflections on the State of the Subfield,” Religion (2010).
  • John T. McGreevey, “Religious History,” in American History Now (2011).

September 9 – Origin Stories: Religion in the Colonies 

Common readings:
  • Perry Miller, chapter 1, Errand into the Wilderness (1956)
  • David D. Hall, chapter 2, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (1990)
  • Jorge Canizares-Esguerra, introduction & chapter 6, Puritan Conquistadors: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550-1700 (2006)
Secondary readings:
  • Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad (1978)
  • Janice Knight, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism (1994)

September 16 – Origin Stories: Early American Religion

Common readings:
  • Nathan Hatch, “Introduction: Democracy and Christianity,” The Democratization of American Christianity (1991)
  • Jon Butler, introduction & chapter 8, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (1992)
  • Catherine Albanese, introduction & chapter 3, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion (2007)
Secondary readings:
  • Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (1997) – R
  • Amanda Porterfield, Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation (2010) – E 

September 23 – The United Religions of America?

Common readings:
  • Mark A. Noll, chapters 1, 4-5, 9-10, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (2005)
  • John Lardas Modern, introduction and chapter 1, Secularism in Antebellum America (2011)
  • Panel papers from “Futures of the American Religious Past: A conversation about Mark Noll’s America’s God and John Lardas Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America” (ASCH 2015) 

  • Secondary Readings:
  • Catherine L. Albanese, Nature Religion in America: From the Algonkian Indians to the New Age (1991)
  • Will Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (1955)
  • Robert N. Bellah, “Is There a Common American Culture?” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (1998)
  • Deborah Dash Moore, GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation (2006)
  • Gary Laderman, Sacred Matters: Celebrity Worship, Sexual Ecstasies, the Living Dead, and Other Signs of Religious Life in the United States (2010)

September 30 – Fundamentalism and Modernity

Common readings:
  • George Marsden, introduction, part 1, & part 4, Fundamentalism and American Culture (1980)
  • B. M. Pietsch, chapters tba, Dispensational Modernism (2015)
Secondary readings:
  • Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention (1990)
  • Susan Harding, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics (2000)
  • Kathryn Lofton, “Queering Fundamentalism: John Balcom Shaw and the Sexuality of a Protestant Orthodoxy,” Journal of the History of Sexuality (2008)
  • Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews, Rethinking Zion: How the Print Media Placed Fundamentalism in the South (2006)

October 7 – Race and American Religion

Common readings:
  • Albert Raboteau, chapters 1, 2, & 5, Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South (1980)
  • Sylvester Johnson, chapters tba, African American Religions, 1500-2000: Colonialism, Democracy, and Freedom (2015)
Secondary readings:
  • Judith Weisenfeld, Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion in American Film, 1929-1949 (2007)
  • Curtis Evans, The Burden of Black Religion (2008)
  • Henry Goldschmidt, Race and Religion Among the Chosen People of Crown Heights (2006)
  • Edward E. Curtis, Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960-1975 (2006)
  • Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, Setting Down the Sacred Past: African-American Race Histories (2010)

October 14 – Gender, Sexuality, and American Religion

Common readings:
  • Ann Braude, “Women’s History Is American Religious History” in Retelling U.S. Religious History (1997)
  • R. Marie Griffith, introduction, chapters 5-6, God’s Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission (2007)
  • Anthony M. Petro, introduction & chapter 1, After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion (2015)
Secondary readings:
  •  Robert Orsi, Thank You, St. Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes (1998)
  • Catherine A. Brekus, Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845 (1998)
  • Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (2011)
    [This book is not set in the U.S. Even so, it’s had a huge impact on scholars writing about gender and religion in the U.S.]
  • Amy DeRogatis, Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism (2014)

October 19-20 – Individual meetings to discuss final projects
October 21 – No class meeting

October 28 – Migration and Diaspora

Common readings:
  • Robert A. Orsi, introductions, chapters 6 & 7, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950 (1985)
  • Paul Christopher Johnson, introduction, chapters 1, 5, & 6, Diaspora Conversions: Black Carib Religion and the Recovery of Africa (2007)
Secondary readings:
  • Thomas Tweed, Our Lady of the Exile: Diasporic Religion at a Cuban Catholic Shrine in Miami (1997)
  • Warner, R. Stephen and Judith Wittner, eds. Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration (1998)
  • Robert A. Orsi, ed. Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape (1999)
  • Manuel Vasquez and Marie F. Marquardt, Globalizing the Sacred: Religion Across the Americas (2003)
  • Carolyn Chen, Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience (2008)

November 4 – From Religious Outsiders to Religious Pluralism

Common readings:
  • R. Laurence Moore, introduction, chapter 1, & postscript, Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans (1987)
  • William R. Hutchison, introduction and chapter 9, Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal (2004)
  • Courtney Bender and Pamela Klassen, introduction, chapters 3, 4, and 6, After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement (2010)

Secondary readings:
  • Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (1985)
  • Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (2004)
  • Eric Mazur, The Americanization of Religious Minorities: Confronting the Constitutional Order (2004)

November 11 – Spirituality and American religion

Common Readings
  • Robert Wuthnow, chapters 1, 5, & 7, The Restructuring of American Religion (1988)
  • Courtney Bender, introduction, chapters 1 & 5, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination (2010)

Secondary Readings:
  • Wade Clark Roof, Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion (2001)
  • Pamela E. Klassen, Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity (2011)

November 18 – Economy and American religion

Common readings:
  • Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, chapters 1, 3, & 7, The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy (1992)
  • Bethany Moreton, prologue, chapters 1-9, & epilogue, To Serve God and Walmart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (2010)
Secondary readings: tba

November 25 – The Cultural History of American Religion

Common reading:
  • Tracy Fessenden, introduction, chapters 3 & 5, epilogue, Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature  (2006)
  • Kathryn Lofton, introduction, chapter 1, and conclusion, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (2011) 
Secondary readings:
  • David Chidester, Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture (2005)
  • Jason Bivens, Spirits Rejoice!: Jazz and American Religion (2015)

December 2
WEEK 15 – The Scholar’s Place in the Study of Contemporary American Religion

Common reading:
  • Winnifred Sullivan, introduction, The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (2007)
  • Robert A. Orsi, introduction and chapter 6, Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them (2006)


Mark T. Edwards said…
Can I take your class? :) Seriously, though, this looks awesome.

For the week on cultural history of religion (Week 14), would there be use in pairing Fessenden or Lofton with an older text, like Lears's No Place of Grace or Susan Curtis's A Consuming Faith?
Paul Harvey said…
Whole Lotta' Lofton! Which is great!

I'd think about Sutton's American Apocalypse for one of the other 2ndary readings for fundamentalism -- pairs well with older literature there.

I'm going to join Mark in taking the class, hope you don't mind.
Unknown said…
This almost makes me want to go back to grad school for the sake of all the interesting reading! Almost.

For week 13 on Economy and American Religion, a couple secondary ideas:
- Darren Dochuk, "Blessed by Oil, Cursed with Crude" in JAH (June 2012)
- Selections from Paul Johnson's classic "A Shopkeeper's Millennium"

For Week 7 on "Race and American Religion," I suggest considering:
- selection from David Yoo's "Contentious Spirits: Religion in Korean-American History, 1903-1945" (would also work for Week 10)
Jason Bivins said…
Looks absolutely fabulous, and I wish I could take the course too.

While the purview of these pieces might not be precisely historical, I'd also suggest a journal issue to which Tracy, Katie, John, and I contributed along with Chip Callahan and Rosemary Hicks and editor Finbarr Curtis.

It's Religion, Vol. 42, Issue 3 (2012).

Lots of reflections on the state of what I call American Religious Studies and on the role of the scholar.
I concur, excellent list of readings. I may have to drive over from Houston....

I like the final week's topic, too. As I recall, in Righteous Riches, Milmon Harrison offered an interesting perspective on studying the African American prosperity gospel as a critical, scholarly insider. And Kate Bowler's appendices in Blessed, while not solely focused on "the scholar's place," as you term it, provide much food for thought in relation to the topic. Finally, Mark Noll's recent memoir From Every Tribe and Nation may be of interest as well.
I was thinking of revising one of my graduate courses along the same lines of pairing an older text with a more recent one, so I'm excited to see a model. Your week on "Race and American Religion" includes only readings on African American religion. Is it actually about race as a framework or African American religious history? Are African Americans the only raced people? Is race the only way to frame a session that focuses on African American religious history?

Two suggestions for your additional readings for the first week:

David W. Wills, “The Central Themes of American Religious History: Pluralism, Puritanism, and the Encounter of Black and White,” in Timothy E. Fulop and Albert J. Raboteau, eds., African American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture (New York: Routledge, 1997)

Lila Corwin Berman, “American Jewish History Against the Grain,” Fides et Historia 44:2 (Summer 2012): 62-66
As many of you know, I don't often get the chance to teach religious history anymore, I'm teaching religion as part of women's and gender and sexuality history classes. So thank you for sharing, and suggesting such a rich conversation in the comments.

I am a little surprised (curious?) that we still see this kind of course organized with a "race week" and a "gender week," and I'm interested in Judith's comment, too, about how race here equals African American. In particular, I wonder what it means to teach American religion in 2015 where all "field assessments" are the domain of white men studying, largely, white Protestants (week 2 is where I thought I'd see the definitive Braude essay, for example). But - I imagine it will open up room for lots of good conversation!

This organization also means that a group like American Catholics only come into the story as migrants and women, which is why I still like sending students to McGreevy's Catholicism and American Freedom.

Ultimately, this makes me nostalgic for my first year of grad school! I love syllabus posts.
Shari Rabin said…
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Shari Rabin said…
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jen graber said…
I really appreciate the comments both here and on the Facebook thread that includes a link to the post. When I was writing up the post, I thought about detailing what I considered the strengths and weaknesses of syllabus. But I opted just to post it and see the reactions. Some of them I anticipated and a few I did not. I especially appreciate the challenge to consider how to bring in extended reflection on constructions of race and gender without signaling (if even unintentionally) that these can be separated from other kinds of discussion by putting them in their own special weeks. The same goes for considering Catholicism. I'd love to see how others have solved this problem creatively. Thanks, everybody!
Unknown said…
I wrote an essay on this topic a few months back:


I'm particularly interested by the intersection of theory in history and religious studies. Sometimes I feel like the two fields are talking past each other, unnecessarily.

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