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
Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (1988)
Clark Roof, A Generation of Seekers. New York, NY: Harper
Clark Roof, Spiritual Marketplace Princeton: Princeton University
presentation on religious phenomenon
2. Attendance, class
and web discussion participation
3. Reading summaries
posted to web site
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.”
letter grades there will be +’s and –‘s)
- 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
If anyone has any questions, suggestions,
difficulties, or comments I would love to hear them and am always
available by email email@example.com
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.
- 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.
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
Schedule of Topics and Readings
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
20: Introduction to course & web site -
Exploring the Changing American Culture(s) (Note
the first class meets 9:30- 4:00)
Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion.
Clark Roof, A Generation of Seekers. p. 11-62, 241-262
Clark Roof, Spiritual Marketplace p. 3-111
& Gray The Gospel Hour – online copy at (soon)
the course and each other
to the course site and discussion board
a trip and giving it meaning
Changing Organizational Realities
Putnam, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”
Ammerman, “Organized Religion in a Voluntaristic Society”
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.
Thumma “What God Makes Free is Free Indeed: Nondenominational
Church Identity and its Networks of Support”
Thumma Exploring the Megachurch Phenomena: their characteristics and
cultural context http://hirr.hartsem.edu/bookshelf/thumma_article2.html
Miller, Reinventing American Religion
is the same and what is different
Networks, house churches and the Emergent Church
1: Changing Worship Realities - Expressivism & multiculturalism
me that new time religion
practices in old religions
& performance – Pentecostalism, the Vineyard and Contemp
Multiethnic, and multi-venue
15: An Increasing Diverse Population – Immigration and religious
Speaker on Islam in America
and a diverse America
or Abrahamic or multi-faiths
churches and becoming an American “church.”
God(s) we Trust?
13: I’ll Do It My Way – Individualism and the Internet
Bellah, et al. Habits
of the Heart p. 219-245
Roof A Generation of Seekers p. 213-262
Wilcox “A Religion of one’s own” – article
Brasher Give me that Online Religion p. 3-41
Guest speaker from Trinity College on religious nones
religion of my own – Sheilaism
faiths or the influence of the Internet on religious life