Below is an unfinished syllabus for my religion and politics class. To date I’ve designed four units: 1. introductory provocative questions, 2. religion and U.S. politics, 3. religion and the U.S. president and 4. religion and the State of Israel. I’m working on units on the Arab Spring, on religion and state in Europe, and on religion and state in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Any ideas are welcome! You can also download it here.
Religious Studies VI: Religion and Politics in the Contemporary World
Question: How do, and should, people’s religious beliefs and practices influence their political beliefs and practices? How do, and should, their political views inform their religious commitments?
How to read this syllabus
Day #__ Today’s Question
Homework to be completed for this class appears here
Additional notes about what we will do in class appear here.
Religion and Politics: A taste of a few debates
Day 1 To what extent does religion effect politics, and vice versa: the case of territory.
Please read Terence Gilheany, ed. “Blog Entries on The Land is Ours.”
In class we will discuss the religious claim some settlers claim to the West Bank / Judea and Samaria. Are these religious claims invalid on their face? Why? What would counterarguments look like?
Day 2 To what extent does religion effect politics, and vice versa: the case of forced conversion
Please read Jacques Fornier, “Confession of Baruch the Jew.”
In class we will discuss: what can society do to avoid such tragedies? What precisely are the problems at issue in an institution like the Inquisition?
Day 3 To what extent should believers seek to rule by their beliefs?
Please read Augustine of Hippo, “Religion and Politics (TFGed).”
In class we will discuss: is Augustine justified in advocating that the Roman Empire support Christianity?
Day 4 When does fear of religious domination turn into prejudice?
Please read Thomas J. Heflin, “Warning Against the Roman Catholic Party.”
Is Heflin prejudiced? To what extent is his concern legitimate? What should be done with Heflin’s attitude?
Day 5 When should states defend individual rights against religious rights?
Caitlin Killian, “Five French Women Debate the Veil.”
Does France encourage an open society or prejudice when it bans the veil from schools? How would a caring society approach this question?
Day 6 How do we define religion? How do we define politics?
Please read Swanson, “Religion and Politics definitions.” Then please write a 300 word essay finishing the statement “The biggest reason religion and politics come into conflict is…”
Please submit the “why religion and politics conflict” essay.
What should the relationship be between religion and politics in the United States?
Day 7 What critiques might religious conservatives level at liberals? To what extent can and should the “culture wars” be reduced?
Please read Patrick Buchanan, “1992 Republican National Convention Speech” and EJ Dionne, “Culture War Treaty.” (2007).
To what extent is Buchanan right when he claims, “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America”? Is there a “third way” as Dionne references, or would that require one side to surrender their religious beliefs?
Day 8 What are the concerns and interests of the “religious right” in the United States?
Please read Jane Mayer, “Bully Pulpit” (2012).
To what extent does the Christian Reconstructionist movement in general, and Bryan Fischer in particular, represent the true values of the United States? What aspects, if any, of liberal American religiosity are they omitting or misunderstanding?
Day 9 What critiques might religious liberals level at conservatives?
Please read Scott Appleby, “A Mormon-Catholic Ticket?” (2012) and Alice Chasan, “Why ‘Faith-based Diplomacy’ Matters” (2006).
To what extent do religious liberals like Madeline Albright and Scott Appleby represent the true values of the United States? What aspects, if any, of conservative American religiosity are they omitting or misunderstanding?
Day 10 What did the U.S. founding fathers say about the role of religion in politics?
Please read Thomas Jefferson, “Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom” (1786), Benjamin Franklin, “Letters about his Religious Views” (1780 & 1790), U.S. Continental Congress, “The Declaration of Independence” (1776), and U.S. Congress, “The First 10 Amendments To The Constitution As Ratified By The States” (1791). In the Amendments, please focus simply on the establishment and free exercise clauses of the first amendment.
To what extent do you hear more conservative or liberal stances towards religion and politics in these documents?
Day 11What are the advantages and disadvantages of an Enlightenment view of religion and politics?
Please read John Locke, “A Letter Concerning Toleration” (1689).
Should even a Christian dedicated to saving souls accept that such salvation should not be the task of government?
Day 12 How strong a version of seperation of church and state do we support?
Please write a 300-word essay interpreting the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. Some options: 1. Government should not make one form of Christianity the official religion, but should actively support Christianity in preference to other religions or to nonbelief. 2. Government should not make any religion the official religion, but should actively support religion in preference to nonbelief. 3. Government should not make any religion the official religion and should not support religion in preference to nonbelief. 4. Another stance that you hear in the Establishment clause.
Please submit the “Establishment clause” essay.
What limitations, if any, should we place on the President’s religious beliefs?
Day 13 Why do so many care that the President be a Christian?
Please read Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Obama, Romney Share Their Christian Views” (2012), Luke Johnson, “Robert Jeffress: Mormonism Is A Cult, But A ‘Theological Cult’” and Michelle Geller, “Why So Many People Think Obama Is A Muslim.”
In class we will discuss why people are invested in the President being a Christian, what the results of this might be, and our views.
Day 14 Who counts as a Christian?
Please read Michael Otterson, “How do Mormons answer ‘non-Christian’ claims?” and Mason, “I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian.”
In class we will discuss questions people have about Mormons, ideas about what Romney’s Mormon identity have triggered in portions of the U.S. population.
Day 15 Why assert that Barak Obama is not a Christian?
Please read Pew, “Little Voter Discomfort with Romney’s Mormon Religion; Only About Half Identify Obama as Christian”
In class we will watch Barack Obama, “Call to Renewal Keynote Address.”
Day 16 To what extent is there a “stained-glass ceiling” in U.S. politics?
Please read Z. Byron Wolf, “Stained-Glass Ceiling- Would America Vote for a Non-Christian?
In class we will discuss to what extent voting for someone whose beliefs are similar to yours aligns with the spirit of democracy?
Day 17 What is the history of concerns about the President’s religion?
Please read Jay Dolan, “The Right of a Catholic To Be President” (2008).
In class we will watch John F. Kennedy, “Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.”
Day 18 What limits should the electorate place on the Presidents’ religion?
Please write a 300-word essay discussing the following fictional scenario: an organization called “Righteous Way” works to ensure that as many politicians are, in their words, “Bible-believing Christians.” They have funded attacks on Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Mormon candidates, as well as on Protestant candidates they judged not to be Bible-believing. How would you respond to this group? Would you sue them, asking the courts to limit their activities? Would you donate to an alternative group? Would you donate to this group? Other? Why?
Please submit the “Christian President” essay.
Religion and the State in contemporary Israel
Day 19 How do the founding principles of Israel regarding religion compare to the founding principles of the United States?
Please read Provisional Government of Israel, “Proclamation of Independence” and Israeli Knesset, “Basic Law – Human Dignity and Liberty”
In class we will discuss the concepts of “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion,” “freedom of religion,” and “a Jewish and democratic state.”
Day 20 How do the settlements relate to the State of Israel and its values?
Please read Daniel Byman and Natan Sachs, The Rise of Settler Terrorism
In class we will discuss what the settlements are and some of the initial questions they raise for the relationship of Judaism to the State of Israel.
Day 21 To what extent is religion at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Maxine Dovere, “A Prominent Rabbi’s Take on Jewish Christian relations” (2012) and Rabbi Eliezar Melamed, “In the Merit of Six Houses.”
In class we will discuss the concept of the land and of redemption in both Jewish and Christian Zionism, as well as the secular defense of the settler movement.
Day 22 To what extent is religion at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Please read Dani Dayan, “Israel’s Settlers Are Here to Stay” (2012) and and Benjamin Weinthal, “German Jewish leader – Rescind Israel hater’s prize” (2012).
In class we will discuss the secular defense for the settler movement.
Day 23 To what extent is religion at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Please read Judith Butler, “I affirm a Judaism that is not associated with state violence” (2012) and Avelett Shani, “The West Bank’s Rabbi Menachem Froman has the solution to the conflict” (2012).
In class we will discuss the idea of a Judaism that advocates Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.
Day 24 To what extent is religion at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Please write a 300-word essay on the question “Is it possible for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic? If not, what changes would you recommend? If yes, address the objections we have encountered in this unit.
Please submit the “Jewish and Democratic” essay.
The Arab Spring
Day 25 What
Secularization and religious diversity in Europe
Day 26 What
Religion and the states of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India
Day 27 What
Cory McCarty said:
Once again, I really wish I’d been able to take this class. It sounds fascinating. Two comments: First, I think in the day 13 reading you mean Pamela Geller, not Michelle Geller. Second, you ask questions about how liberal religious people should respond to conservative religious people and vice versa, but it seems like you don’t really address how non-believers (atheists or agnostics) should respond to either. This seems fairly important too (though maybe I’m biased because I’m an agnostic).
Also, I apologize for not responding to your questions on my last comment. I’d just left for two weeks camping, so I wasn’t really on the internet much. I think both examples you provided are good ones. The crusades may present another strong example (very similar to manifest destiny) of religion being used as an excuse to pursue secular goals. Unfortunately, I do not have any good suggestions for sources.
Oh, I love my Pamela/Michelle mistake. Obviously I’d rather be watching Buffy slay vampires.