Religion in American Society: Colonial Period to the Civil War

Course Description: This course introduce students to major themes and movements in American religious history from the colonial period through the Civil War. We will consider Native American religions, the Revolution, slavery and slave religions, New Religious Movements, and immigration. The purpose of this course is to foster an understanding of religious diversity in early American history, the role of religion in the development of America, and the relationship between religion and aspects of American society.


Course Goals:

During this course, students will:

  1. Develop a knowledge and understanding of relevant traditions, teachings, practices, and figures involved in the American society;
  2. Explore historical events that demonstrate various aspects of American religious history;
  3. Engage modern writers to understand contemporary thought and investigation into aspects of American religious history.

Learning Goals:

At the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify major teachings, figures, and thought within American religious history;
  2. Recognize aspects of American religious history at work in current events;
  3. Reflect critically on the interrelationship of religion and American society;
  4. Articulate the difficulties inherent in discussing religion in America.

Instructional Methods:

This course will consist of a combination of discussion, group work, lecture, and film that draw upon class readings and materials prepared by the students.

Required Texts:

The following required texts should be purchased from the bookstore.

  • Jon Butler & Harry Stout, Religion in American History: A Reader
  • C.C. Goen, Broken Churches, Broken Nations
  • Marie Griffith, American Religions: A Documentary History
  • David Hackett, Religion and American Culture
  • Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South
  • Peter Williams, America’s Religions: From Their Origins to the Twenty-First Century 
  • Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920

Readings marked with an ** in the course schedule are located on Blackboard under their respective module tab.


  1. Discussion Participation (15%)

Total discussion participation will be calculated on a 10-point scale (see RUBRICS in the COURSE PACK on Blackboard). Every day that you are present in class I will assign you a grade on the 10 point scale. Your final grade will be an average of every participation grade you accumulate over the number of class days we have (x/25). For those of you who are on the quieter side: aim to make at least one, thoughtful comment during each fishbowl discussion. Remember: quality trumps quantity.

  1. Homework (25%)

Homework (HW) for specified classes will be completed for respective modules on Blackboard and is due by the beginning of class (i.e., the time class starts). The purpose of homework at the beginning of class is to make sure everyone understands basic concepts from our reading material. The purpose of homework during the last third of the semester is to prepare you for discussion. The more prepared everyone is for discussion, the better our class discussions will be. Please see the COURSE PACKET on Blackboard for homework instructions and grading rubrics. Please see syllabus section on Late Policies for information on late homeworks.

NOTE: I will drop the lowest homework grade for students who complete every assignment (homework and journal) on time (i.e., no assignments are late or missed).

  1. Reflection Journal (25%)

Instead of writing a paper, students will keep a weekly reflection notebook on all readings. Entries should be a full 2 pages, double spaced (2 pages single-spaced if you wish to write your journal longhand–please be legible!). Journal reflections are due for each class meeting. If you submit your entry through Blackboard, please bring a copy to class with you for reference during discussions. Students who choice to hand write their entry may hold onto their reflection until the end of class. Think of it this way: you have already thought about the material AND written a comment about it, so all you have to do is look at your reflection, see what you wrote, and make a comment. That means, in a discussion all you have to do is look at the paper and there’s your class participation! NOTE: Journal entries are not summaries of the readings but are analytical, critical and constructive responses to the readings.

Please see the COURSE PACK for further information on journal specifics. NOTE: I will drop the lowest journal grade for students who complete every assignment (homework and journal) on time (i.e., no assignments are late or missed).

  1. Final Exam (35%)

One final exam will be administered on Blackboard. The exam will be open for two full days (48 hours) to be decided at a later date (dates depend on the course’s scheduled exam day). The exam will consist of two parts: (1) a section consisting of quote identification, short answer, fill-in-the-blank style questions (similar to the homework), (2) a section containing 3 short essay questions based on class material. The purpose of this exam is to demonstrate knowledge and mastery of material covered within this course. For detailed instructions on the exam see FINAL EXAM in BB where I will post more information in February.

Extra Credit Opportunity +5%

Students may elect to write one 5-7 page paper for extra credit. Extra credit will be applied to the Attendance/Participation grade. See the EC tab on Blackboard for more details. The EC paper is due the last day of class.



Course Schedule:

Readings designated with ** are located on Blackboard.

Textbook readings are listed by the AUTHOR’S LAST NAME.

NOTES: This course schedule is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.

Week 1:

1: Introduction to course and syllabus

2: Native American Traditions

READ: Williams, Ch. 1; Hackett, Ch. 1


Week 2

1:Labor Day

2: African Religions

READ: Raboteau, Ch. 1

DUE: Journal #1

Week 3

1: The City Upon the Hill

READ: Butler/Stout, Ch. 2; Williams, Ch. 21; Griffith, Ch. 1

DUE: HW #2

2: Puritans

READ: Williams, Ch. 13; Griffith, Ch. 3


Week 4

1: Colonial Religions & Violence

READ: Hackett, Ch. 3; Williams, Ch. 2 (pp63-74)

DUE: Journal #2

2: Challenges to the Mainstream I– the Supernatural

READ: Hackett, Ch. 2; Griffith, pp80-90

DUE: Journal #3

Week 5

1: Challenges to the Mainstream II–Quakers

READ: Williams, Ch. 15; Griffith, Ch. 3, 76-80; Butler/Stout, Ch. 3

DUE: Journal #4

2: Slavery & Religion I–African Religions & African Christianity

READ: Hackett, Ch. 4, 9; Butler/Stout, Ch. 4

DUE: Journal #5

Week 6

1: Revivalism & the Great Awakening

READ: Williams, Ch. 16, 17; Griffith, Ch. 6, Ch. 7 (115-121)


2: Slavery & Religion II– Religious Life

READ: Raboteau, Ch. 5

DUE: Journal #6

Week 7

1: Religion and the American Revolution I

READ: Butler/Stout, Ch.5, pp 88-108; Williams, Ch. 22; Griffith, Ch. 10


2: Religion and the American Revolution II

READ: Hackett, Ch. 6, 7

DUE: Journal #7

Week 8

1: The Feminization of Religion

READ: Hackett, Ch. 8; Butler/Stout, Ch.6

DUE: Journal #8

2: Discussion Day

Week 9

1: New Religious Movements: Mormonism

READ: Williams, Ch. 30; Griffith, Ch 11 (pp163-171); Butler/Stout, Ch.9

DUE: HW #6

2: New Religious Movements: Millennialism & Transcendentalism

READ: Williams, Ch. 28, 29; Griffith, Ch. 11 (pp172-82)

DUE: Journal #9

Week 10

1: Slavery & Religion II: Slave Life

READ: Griffith, Ch. 8, Ch. 14 (239-244); Butler/Stout, Ch. 11

DUE: Journal #10

2: Immigrants & Religion I: Catholics

READ: Butler/Stout, Ch. 7; **Donlan, “Evangelical Catholicism”

DUE: HW #7

Week 11

1: Immigrants & Religion II: Jews

READ: Williams, Ch. 38; Griffith, Ch. 9 (pp148-149); Hackett, Ch. 12

DUE: Journal #11

2: Slavery & Religion II: Resistance &Pro-Slavery Christianity

READ: Griffith, Ch. 13 (pp239-244); Raboteau, Ch. 6

DUE: Journal #12

Week 12

1: Women, Abolitionism, & Social Justice

READ: Williams, Ch. 24; Griffith, Ch. 14

DUE: Journal #13

2: Religion and the Civil War I

READ: Goen, Ch. 3

DUE: HW #8

Week 13

1: Religion and The Civil War II

READ: Goen, Ch. 4

DUE: Journal #14

2: The American Civil Religion I

READ: Wilson, Ch. 1, 2

DUE: HW #9

Week 14

1: The American Civil Religion II

READ: Wilson, Ch. 3, 4

DUE: Journal #15

2: Thanksgiving—No Class

Week 15

1: Conclusions

DUE: EC papers; Journal rewrites