RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA – History 43.11/American Studies 62

Now that we’re in the home stretch, you will concentrate on two pieces of writing. This end-of-term work will also substitute for the other term essay listed on the syllabus. (I know that most of you are stressed out at this point in the term) This writing is sharply focused on specific reading materials and, so, is much less stressful than reviewing a whole term’s work for an exam. The essays are due on or before Friday December 23, the scheduled date for the final exam. You may submit them by email to me or in hardcopy to me on the last day of classes (Dec. 14) or to the History Department secretary NO LATER THAN NOON ON DEC. 23.  But remember – NONE WILL BE ACCEPTED AFTER DEC. 23.  Grades have to be submitted in a timely manner, and I will not be on campus next semester. Since there will be no way to make up missing work, I will not submit any incomplete grades. That means that if I don't have your work to grade it will be recorded as an F.  There will be no appeals. I’ve opened a Caucus item for this assignment in case you would like to try out some ideas or raise questions. And we will be devoting much of our last two weeks discussing Eck’s book, the subject of one of the essays.

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PART I: Critique of Diana L. Eck’s , A New Religious America: How a  “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation

Eck’s book deals with a major theme of this course, the connection between religious diversity and American identity, the every-changing relationship between the Many and the One. In a short essay (3 to 4 pages) comment critically on her thesis, how persuasively (or not) she develops it, and especially how she uses and interprets American religious history.


I.                    Introduction:  In a few paragraphs state Eck’s thesis and describe her argument as she develops it in chapters 1, 2, 6 and 7. What does she see as the great challenge for the 21st century? In her opinion, what are the major barriers to achieving a truly pluralistic culture? Pay particular attention to her understanding of the place of Christianity in American history and the role of the American constitutional system as the foundation of our common public life. In this section be sure to discuss Eck’s understanding of American history in the light of what you have learned in this course, drawing on pertinent course materials.

II.                  Body: For the major part of the essay, concentrate on only one chapter (3, 4, or 5) to discuss the experiences and contributions of one group of new contributors to American life: Hindus, Buddhists, or Muslims. Summarize the chapter and comment on how it fits her thesis. What did you learn about this group that was most striking or surprising to you?

III.                Conclusion: In a couple of paragraphs explain whether or not you find Eck’s thesis persuasive. In your opinion (give reasons) has she made a convincing case? Has she ignored or misrepresented relevant questions or issues?

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PART II.  Document Essay

Choose a document from Parts II, III or IV of the course. [YOU MAY NOT USE ANY DOCUMENTS ALREADY PART OF EARLIER ASSIGNMENTS!] Write a short essay (about three pages) on what it reveals about a theme (major topic) in American religious history that you believe is still relevant to an issue in American life today.  Your basic question is:  what does this document reveal about a major theme in American religious history? Your first paragraph should have a thesis statement (a general answer to the basic question). In your discussion draw on one essay (secondary source) from Moore or Part I of Porterfield that relates to the theme. Here is a guide for the structure of your essay:

Title: Give the name of the document, the theme it illustrates, and the Moore or Porterfield essay.

Section 1: Introduction and Background. Besides including your thesis statement it should identify the historical theme or topic the document illustrates and  provide information on the historical background to the document. Choose a secondary source (an essay from Moore or Porterfield) that relates to that theme and explain how it is helpful in interpreting the document.

Section 2: Summary of the Document.  Give a succinct and accurate account of what the document says, in your own words. No quotations, please.

Section 3: Analysis. Here you will relate the content of the document to the broader theme and to the contemporary issue. Explain how it is valuable for understanding the historical theme it represents. What has it taught you about an important aspect of religion in American history? How does it relate to the secondary source you chose? How does it relate to a contemporary issue in American life?

Section 4: Conclusion.  Make a conclusion by restating the most important points you made in your discussion