Academic Programs 
      

Contemporary American Religion   (RS-667)
  Fall 2005

There are over 350 religious denominations in the United States, and yet few of us know who they are or how they all fit together in the fabric of contemporary American religious life.  Where did all these groups come from, what do they believe and how do they influence society?  This course introduces students to the religious diversity that has arisen in the U.S. over the past 50 years.  It also explores the prominent place of religion in our seemingly secular nation.  Topics will include among others, the reemergence of evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, new varieties of African-American religion, immigrant and ethnic religion, "cult" controversies, and a deinstitutionalized "spirituality" of many modern Americans.

 

Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
D. Min. Schedule – Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on September 20, October 11, November 1 and 15 and December 13  

Scott Thumma
Professor of Sociology of Religion
 

Contact Information:
phone: 
(860) 509-9571
email: sthumma@hartsem.edu

 

Course Syllabus


Course Description:

There are over 350 religious denominations in the United States, and yet few of us know who they are or how they all fit together in the fabric of contemporary American religious life.  Where did all these groups come from, what do they believe and how do they influence society?  This course introduces students to the religious diversity that has arisen in the U.S. over the past 50 years.  It also explores the prominent place of religion in our seemingly secular nation.  Topics will include among others, the reemergence of evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, new varieties of African-American religion, immigrant and ethnic religion, "cult" controversies, and a deinstitutionalized "spirituality" of many modern Americans.

Aims of the Course:

1.   To learn the basic facets of and players in contemporary American religious life.
2.   To understand the role religion plays in helping to shape our country.
3.   To explore the relationship between American culture and its religious life as well as to identify the changes that are taking place in society and in the expression of religion in relation to these changes.
4.   To examine in depth one religious phenomenon and its relationship to contemporary society.
5.   To employ this knowledge of the contemporary American religion to speculate on the future role of religion in the United States.

Required Books:

Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (1988)           

Wade Clark Roof, A Generation of Seekers. New York, NY: Harper Collins (1993)

Wade Clark Roof, Spiritual Marketplace Princeton: Princeton University Press (1999)

 Course Requirements:

1.  Class presentation on religious phenomenon             25 percent
2.  Attendance, class and web discussion participation   20 percent
3.  Reading summaries posted to web site                     25 percent
4.  15-page paper exploring a contemporary                   30 percent  religious phenomenon due 1/15

Further instruction on requirements will be given in class as the due dates approach.  The final paper should conform to the Seminary’s “General Guidelines for a Research Paper.” 

Grading Scale (within letter grades there will be +’s and –‘s)

90-100%            A           
80-89%              B           
70-79%              C
below 70%          F

Expectations -  Given that this is a 5 meeting course, I would strongly suggest that students try their best NOT to miss any class meetings.  One absence, with a very good reason and, ideally, prior approval, will be tolerated but anyone who misses one and a half or more class periods will lose a full letter grade or more off their final grade. 

Please come to class well prepared.  Since we only meet five times, and I will be basing nearly a quarter of your grade on participation, come prepared, engage in the discussion and post your comments on the class discussion board.

The average reading assignment for each session is approximately 350-400 pages.  While this seems considerable, please remember one of our class meetings is the same as roughly 3 weeks of typical class meetings.   The first week’s assignments will contain more theoretical reading than the later weeks.

The first week of class I will introduce everyone to the web site and discussion board.  I expect everyone to use it to extend our classroom conversation between the times that we meet face-to-face.  I understand if some persons have less free time, or are less inclined, to interact online.  Nevertheless, I expect everyone to post the minimum, a reading summary 3-4 days prior to a class meeting and at least one comment or response to a classmate’s comment between each class related to our continuing discussion questions. 

If anyone has any questions, suggestions, difficulties, or comments I would love to hear them and am always available by email sthumma@hartsem.edu or during my office hours posted on my office door. 

The standard Seminary policies regarding plagiarism and writing style apply to this course.  For more information about these policies see the student handbook or the Seminary’s web site.


Research
project - Each student will choose a contemporary religious phenomenon or trend to focus on throughout the course of the semester.  During the appropriate week of class each student will gather information about this religious phenomenon or group for presentation to the class. The purpose of this presentation is twofold: 1) to uncover primary sources related to this phenomenon, and 2) to introduce more information about the phenomenon or trend to the class. The primary source might include a group’s confessional statements, published materials from the organization, sermons, videos, news reports, web material and other items that furnish information about the phenomenon.

Students will use this material, plus other scholarly sources to write a 15 page research paper on a topic related to this phenomenon or tradition and the place of this tradition in the contemporary religious context in the U.S.. This paper must explore information about the phenomenon in relation to larger patterns of culture and societal changes that have taken place in America in the past fifty years.  Please be prepared to sign up for a presentation topic by the second week of class and a preliminary idea of your final paper topic by mid-November. 

Schedule of Topics and Readings

NOTE:  the readings for the FIRST class meeting must be done by the first meeting date.  Please come to our first class prepared to discuss the first set of readings.  The specific Topics and Readings for the remaining weeks will be refined and adjusted over the next few weeks and months.  The majority of the readings for this course will come from the required and recommended texts for the course as well as articles available on the Internet. 

Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on September 20, October 11, November 1 and 15 and December 13

Sept 20: Introduction to course & web site -  Exploring the Changing American Culture(s)             (Note the first class meets 9:30- 4:00)

Read:

Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion.  p. 71-240

Wade Clark Roof, A Generation of Seekers. p. 11-62, 241-262

Wade Clark Roof, Spiritual Marketplace p. 3-111

Thumma & Gray The Gospel Hour – online copy at (soon)

Discussion Topics:

1.       Introductory lecture

2.       About the course and each other

3.       Religious timeline

4.       Introduction to the course site and discussion board

5.       Taking a trip and giving it meaning

Oct. 11:  Changing Organizational Realities 

Read:           

Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” 
http://muse.jhu.edu/demo/journal_of_democracy/v006/putnam.html 

Nancy Ammerman, “Organized Religion in a Voluntaristic Society”
http://hirr.hartsem.edu/bookshelf/ammerman_article2.html

Stephen Warner “Work in Progress toward a new paradigm for the sociological study of religion in the United States.” American Journal of Sociology 98:1044-1093.

Scott Thumma “What God Makes Free is Free Indeed: Nondenominational Church Identity and its Networks of Support”  http://hirr.hartsem.edu/bookshelf/thumma_article5.html

Scott Thumma Exploring the Megachurch Phenomena: their characteristics and cultural context  http://hirr.hartsem.edu/bookshelf/thumma_article2.html

Don Miller, Reinventing American Religion  p.157- 190

Discussion Topics:

1.       Changing organizational landscape

2.       What is the same and what is different

3.       nondenominationalism

4.       Megachurches, Networks, house churches and the Emergent Church

Possible Presentations:

Nov. 1: Changing Worship Realities - Expressivism & multiculturalism

Read:           

 Coming soon!

Discussion Topics:

1.       Give me that new time religion

2.       New practices in old religions

3.       Expressivism & performance – Pentecostalism, the Vineyard and Contemp Christian Music

4.       Multiracial, Multiethnic, and multi-venue

Possible Presentations:

Nov. 15: An Increasing Diverse Population – Immigration and religious pluralism

Read:           

Coming soon

Guest Speaker on Islam in America

Discussion Topics:

1.       Immigration and a diverse America

2.       Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic or multi-faiths

3.       Immigrant churches and becoming an American “church.”

4.       In God(s) we Trust?

Possible Presentations:

Dec. 13: I’ll Do It My Way – Individualism and the Internet

Read:           

Robert Bellah, et al.  Habits of the Heart p. 219-245

Clark Roof A Generation of Seekers p. 213-262

Melissa Wilcox “A Religion of one’s own” – article

Brenda Brasher Give me that Online Religion p. 3-41

Other articles

Guest speaker from Trinity College on religious nones

Discussion Topics:

1.       A religion of my own – Sheilaism

2.       Spiritual, not religious

3.       Internet faiths or the influence of the Internet on religious life

4.       Nones

5.       A New Age…

Possible Presentations: 

 

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