This online summary of the yllabus includes only the general design of the course.  It does not include detailed information such as the course calendar, which changes from semester to semester.



Religion in politics is an emotional issue for believers and nonbelievers alike, and there is a great temptation to simply clobber one's neighbor with a slogan like "Separation of church and state" or "In God we trust."  The purpose of this course is to help you get beyond the slogans.

We will be studying a large number of sources, mostly primary, of varying length and difficulty, from the colonial period right up to the present.  Some sources discuss issues like whether faith should be enforced or whether revolution is consistent with the law of God.  Others discuss issues like the meaning of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses in the Constitution.  Still others discuss particular historical controversies, such as whose side God was on in the Civil War, what God thinks of war in general, or what God requires by way of racial justice.  A final set of readings concerns the quarrel between secularism and its critics.  Typically, we will read the religious arguments on each side of each of the issues we discuss.

Every course is taught from a point of view.  That doesn’t mean that the teacher can’t be objective.  You can read more about this in the Course Policies, but for now suffice it to say that students in all my classes are welcome to express any opinion for which they can give reasons, and my aim is to teach you enough so that if my own point of view is distorted in any important respect, you will have be equipped to detect the distortion and challenge it.  Of course you should be prepared to be challenged in return!

In this course, it won't matter much that you can read what a writer has written and figure out what he believes.  What will matter is whether you can learn to figure out why he believes it, and how it is logically related to other things he believes.  In other words, when you read you will be expected to look for arguments, not just propositions.


All required readings will be available either in a readings packet or online.  The packet includes 39 short readings by Nathaniel Ward, Roger Williams, John Locke, Jonathan Mayhew, Julia Ward Howe, Abraham Lincoln, Kenneth L. Grasso, Dorothy Day, Abraham Kuyper, Martin Luther King, Everett E. Gendler, Malcolm X, Milton Konvitz, Joseph Storey, Thomas M. Cooley, Russell Hittinger, Alexis de Tocqueville, Alberto Giublini and Francesca Minerva, Warren Hern and Billie Corrigan, Mary Eberstadt, Robert C. Koons and Matthew O’Brien, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Humanist Society, Francis Schaeffer, and Pope Benedict XVI, as well as the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, excerpts from seven Supreme Court cases, and the official transcript of an exchange on the Senate floor between Sens. Rick Santorum and  Barbara Boxer.

Topical outline of the course

Issues in Early America

          Religion and civil authority

          Resistance to the English

                   Natural Rights arguments

                   Biblical arguments

          The Civil War

                   "God is with the North" (Howe)

                   "No, North and South are both guilty" (Lincoln)

Issues in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century America

          The problem of the all-encroaching state

                   Catholic social thought

                   Protestant social thought

           War and peace

                   Christian views

                         Just war doctrine


                    A Jewish view

          Civil rights and black power

                    "The enemy is injustice" (King)

                    "No, the enemy is white people" (Malcolm X)

          Civil disobedience

Constitutional jurisprudence

          The original understanding

                   Early constitutional thinkers

                   A roadmap of contemporary jurisprudence

          Free Exercise Clause cases



          Establishment Clause cases:     Neutralism

          Hostility to religion?

Secularism and its critics

          Influential arguments about democracy, secularism, and Christianity

          The "culture wars"

                   Illustration:  The debate over abortion

                   Two secular humanist manifestoes

                   An evangelical Protestant manifesto

                   A Catholic perspective