Please bring printed copies of your papers to class on the day they are due.
First Paper : Church and State (5 double-spaced pages)
Due Wednesday February 25th
William Jennings Bryan was fond of saying that his political credo rested equally on Jefferson and Jesus. Many American have found it easy to do the same, but others have a hard time figuring out how a Christian Commonwealth can coexist with a “wall of separation” between Church and State.
Explain how two or three different subjects we’ve read about (or two or three specific texts) have resolved, avoided, or otherwise dealt with this tension between Jefferson and Jesus, between the Puritan-based sense of Christian mission and the Enlightenment-based Constitutional order. Indicate how successful you think they were and why.
Second Paper: Religious Biography (5 double-spaced pages)
Due Monday March 30th
This paper offers you an opportunity to think about your own or your family’s relation to religion. As you prepare to write this essay, feel free to talk with family members or others who know this aspect of your life and to incorporate these conversations into your thinking and writing. This account of personal experience should be grounded in relation to concepts and examples found in our course readings. Does Will Herberg’s finding that it is largely through religion that most immigrants craft an American identity describe the experience of your family? Are you, as Robert Wuthnow puts it, a “shopper in the spiritual marketplace”? Has faith been a source of community strength or generational conflict as it is both in the Italian community Robert Orsi describes and in James Baldwin’s novel? How does your individual or family story compare to the polemics of head vs. heart laid out by Gary Wills? Thus, as you tell your story, tell too how it fits into the larger story of the place of religion in American life.
Third Paper: Ethnography Project (5 double-spaced pages)
Due Wednesday April 15th
The goal of this project is to get you to look attentively at a religious community outside your own traditions and to analyze what you find in relation to the problems and possibilities of religious pluralism at stake in this course. We will provide you with a list of contact information for religious organizations within a reasonable distance of Amherst. You are free to combine with friends in either section to undertake the field research for this project. Depending on the religious community, your ability to attend worship or to talk with community members will differ, and you should use the contact numbers to figure out an appropriate and respectful way of conducting this research in this particular community. But I think you will find that most religious communities will be delighted to talk with you about their practices and beliefs and how they see their faith interacting with American cultural and political life. Your essay should report on what you have learned from this field research and connect it to relevant topics in our course readings.
Paper Four: Research Project (7 double-spaced pages) or an imagined conversation
Due in the American Studies Office in Morgan Hall by 4pm on Monday May 11th
This assignment invites independent research on any contemporary question about religion and democracy that interests you. Your paper should situate your research in relation to texts and topics we have discussed over the course of the semester and should document the sources you use in your own research. We would be particularly pleased to see projects that looked comparatively beyond U.S. borders. Please consult with your instructor about your chosen topic.
Imagine that you are among the lucky few undergraduates to be invited to participate in the Scopes Foundation's annual symposium on "Democracy and Religon in America." After two days of heated discussion at Washington D.C.'s Robert Ingersoll Hall, you go out for a sushi and sashimi dinner at the nearby Nihon Kami Inn. As you enter, you see two of the symposium participants: Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Besserwisser (The Free University Berlin) and Professeur Jean-Jacques Rivegauche (The Sorbonne Paris). They are debating. Besserwisser is arguing, emphatically, that American history proves definitively thatAmericans' religious faith is the source of the moral code that is the only sound basis of a democratic society. Rivergauche is arguing, just as emphatically, that American democracy has flourished in spite of rather than because of Americans' incomprehensible commitment to religious beliefs long ago abandoned by Europeans. Each seems to have numerous examples to prove his point.
The argument intrigues you. You approach the table, introduce yourself, and join the discussion. In the form of a short story or a one-act play, let us know how the discussion went.
If you choose the short-story format, double-space. If you choose the one-act-play format, insert blank lines to separate each speech from the ones before and after it.