COURSE THEME: The national motto - OUT OF MANY, ONE - actually expresses a major challenge. How is it possible for so many diverse people to be one nation? This course examines that question from the perspective of the place of religion in American history. Religious diversity is a major feature of American culture.
bulletWhat do so many distinct religious traditions contribute to the core of American culture?
bulletIs there any connection between religious experience and the nation's cultural core?
bulletIs there, in fact, an American cultural core?
To get an insight into the diversity of religion in the United States look at The Largest Religious Groups in the USA. 
As an example of the diversity within just Christianity look at Statistics on Christian Churches in America.


bulletWhich of the following is true of American culture?
bulletThe most religiously participant of modern developed nations
bulletThe pace-setter of modern secular culture
bulletSeparation of church and state
bulletReligious issues play a role in political life
bulletAll of the above?
bulletChoosing a narrative for American religious history: Facts - names, dates, specific events - don't weave a story by themselves. Historians use themes to organize facts into a story or an argument. How the historians arrange facts, indeed, the questions historians choose to answer, shape the reader's perceptions of the events. How should the story of  religion in America be told?
bulletWhat material should be included? Excluded?
bulletWhat values should be exemplified?
bulletWhat perspective should be used?
bulletMarty's theme:  pilgrimage as the common thread uniting the many narrative lines of American religious history.
bulletPorter's major themes for organizing her collection of essays and primary sources. She believes them to be "four interlocking elements that have worked together over time to define virtually all of the particular religious traditions in America." (p.2)
bulletreligious freedom
bulletindividual experience
bulletfamily life
bulletsocial reform
bulletMoore's theme: the mixture of sacred and secular in American culture and the peculiar American ways in which religious faith influences public life
bulletEck's theme: the increase in religious and ethnic diversity since the 1960s has fundamentally changed American religion

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bulletFaith and Objectivity
bulletReligion from the inside
bulletReligion from the outside

WHAT IS RELIGION? Scholars, in seeking greater clarity and depth of understanding, often make concepts more difficult and complex. Here are some attempts at defining religion, a word we all use without thinking what it might actually mean.


The Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion  [p. 647]:
"Religion - from the Latin 'religare' (‘to bind fast') - typically the term refers to an institution with a recognized body of communicants who gather together regularly for worship, and accept a set of doctrines offering some means of relating the individual to what is taken to be the ultimate nature of reality."

bulletAnother definition: "A system of symbols by means of which people orient themselves in the world with reference to both ordinary and extraordinary meanings and values." [Catherine Albanese, America, Religions and Religion (Belmont California: Wadsworth Publishing Company 1981), p.9]
bullet Boundaries: Religion helps people deal with the boundaries that shape their lives

bulletOrdinary: living properly within established boundaries; following the customs and folkways of a culture. [Scully]

bulletExtraordinary: beyond the established boundaries; crossing or transcending ordinary boundaries; encountering the Other, natural or supernatural [Mulder]

bulletLocation  in space through holy places and rites

bulletLocation in time through origin stories and other myths and theological traditions derived from them.
bulletMajor Religious Studies Concepts
bulletMYTHS: Stories (verbal representations) of  higher /deeper realities and of their connections with ordinary human existence.
bulletSYMBOLS: Verbal or non-verbal representations of higher/deeper realities and of their connections with ordinary human existence.
bulletRITUALS: Acts intended to reenact or re-actualize the ideal relationship with higher/deeper realities.
bulletThree Dimensions of Religious Life ( The Three "C"s)
bulletCreed: beliefs, ideas, moral codes, etc.
bulletCultus: piety, ritual
bulletCommunity: institutions and regulations by which groups organize
bullet  Civil Religion (A set of cultural ideas, symbols, and practices oriented to the direct worship of a society by its members.)



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 Sacred Land: Video Documentary - For information on the theme of this  documentary (the use of the Bear Butte site in the Black Hills) link here.

bullet Lakota (Sioux) Culture and Traditional Religion
bulletNote how Creed, Cultus, and Community are seen in this documentary
bulletNo separation between religion and daily life
bulletSpirit world permeates natural world
bulletMyth and History
bulletConsider these questions as you look at the documentary:
bulletWhat is the role of the land in Lakota religion? Why is their land sacred? What makes land sacred or profane: How do you define "sacred."
bulletWhat ritual acts did you notice? How did these rituals put the Lakota in touch with the sacred?
bulletWhat did this film teach about the nature or structure of the Lakota community?
bulletWhat are some Lakota beliefs?
bulletWhat do you see as the role of religion in the Lakota people cope with the particular problems they face as a community and individually?
bulletWhat does the film suggest are some of the major differences between the Lakota view of life and the mainstream American view?
bulletDo you see any differences between the Lakota understanding of religion and your own? Do you think your view is similar to that of most Americans?