SOCS 636
Religion and Politics in the United States

Marc Eisner

Course Description
The United States is, by all measures, a highly religious nation. Since 1944, the Gallup organization has asked: "Do you believe in God?" For more than sixty years, the percentage of the population expressing belief has ranged from 91 and 99 percent (between two and seven time the level of belief exhibited in most wealthy democracies). Indeed, it is difficult to understand recent elections without considering the role of religion in shaping voting behavior. According to a Pew poll conducted in 2004, 78 percent of evangelical Protestants voted for Bush. Kerry's support was found among African American Protestants (83 percent support), Latino Catholics (69 percent support), Jews (73 percent support), and unaffiliated voters (72 percent
support), a category including unaffiliated believers, "seculars," agnostics, and atheists. If the Bush administration appears to be beholden to Evangelical Protestants, it is for a simple reason: they provided 40 percent of his votes. At 26 percent of the population, this group is a core component of the Republican coalition. In the wake of the 2004 election, many Democratic strategists openly wondered whether a Democrat could win the presidency without attracting the support of Evangelical Protestants.

Although public opinion polls are important in interpreting contemporary politics, one cannot understand the trajectory of American political development without examining the role of religion. Major events (e.g., the American Revolution, the Civil War) and reform movements (e.g., the abolition, suffrage, temperance) were shaped, in part, by waves of revival that swept the  nation. Similarly, the social gospel movement played an important role in setting the stage for the Progressive Era and New Deal reform agendas. In the postwar period, the politics surrounding civil rights, the Vietnam war, women's liberation, gay rights, and abortion were infused with religion. Often, religion supported contradictory positions--opponents and advocates of slavery, for example, believed that they were furthering the cause of Christ--and it is often unclear whether religion serves as a motivating factor or a justification for otherwise self-interested actions.

This class will begin with an overview of American religious beliefs today and their role in politics. We turn, then to an examination of the role of religion in the evolution of the American state and public policy. The course concludes with an examination of the role of religion--Evangelical Protestantism in particular--in the Bush presidency and the question of whether the Democratic Party can succeed in the electoral arena without engaging people of faith.

Throughout the course, we will examine the role of religion in politics through the lens of social science. Thus, it makes sense to say a few words about what this course is not about. First, this is not a course in comparative religion. We will not be exploring specific religious doctrines. We will not be giving "equal time" to each sect. Because our subject is the political impact of religion in the United States, we will be concerned with the sects that have had the greatest influence. For example, when considering the contemporary period, we will unapologetically concentrate on protestant Christianity rather than Buddhism or Scientology. Second, although some students may reveal their religious preferences during this term, this is neither a forum to proselytize nor to denounce other's religious convictions or lack thereof.

Course Reading
There are three books available for purchase:
1. Robert Booth Fowler, Allen D. Hertzke, Laura Olson, Kevin den Dulk, Religion and Politics in America, 3rd ed. (Westview Press, 2004).
2. Damon Linker, The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege (Anchor, 2007).
3. James A. Morone, Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History (Yale University Press, 2004).

There will be many readings available on-line. If you cannot access JSTOR, you can go to Blackboard and download the readings there. They are in pdf format which will require that you have Adobe Acrobat Reader (a free download from Some of the readings may make biblical references. If you do not own a Bible, there are many online versions with decent search engines, including

Course Requirements
Seminar Presentation (10 percent):
Each participant will be required to introduce a set of readings at one point during the semester. The presentation--not to exceed five minutes--should provide a brief critique of the readings and identify useful questions for discussion. It should be accompanied by a set of questions for discussion (approximately 1 page).

Brief Essays (60 percent):
During the course of the term, each participant will be required to write three brief critical essays on the readings of the week. Essays on a week's readings are due prior to the class period in which the readings are discussed. Papers should not exceed 5 pages double spaced and should be submitted via email ( as Microsoft Word attachments.

Final Essay (30 percent):
The final assignment for the course is an essay addressing the following question:

In his 1922 book What I Saw in America, G.K. Chesterton noted that America was "the only nation in the world founded on a creed" and observed that it was "a nation with the soul of a church." Is this observation accurate today? How does being a "nation with the soul of a church" impact on domestic politics and policy? How does it shape our foreign policy and our understanding of the nation's mission in the international arena?

This paper should not exceed 15 pages double spaced and is due before the final session. Papers should be submitted via email ( as Microsoft Word attachments.

Course Schedule
I. An Overview of Religion and Politics in the United States
September 11 Course Introduction
September 18 Survey of Religion in the United States

William Dean; Mark A. Noll; Mary Farrell Bednarowski; J. Bryan Hehir, "Forum, Public Theology in Contemporary America." Religion and American Culture, Vol. 10, No. 1. (Winter, 2000), pp. 1-27.

N.J. Demerath III, "Excepting Exceptionalism: American Religion in Comparative Relief," Annals of the  American Academy of Political and Social Science, 558, (Jul., 1998), pp. 28-39

Fowler et al, Religion and Politics in America, chapters 1, 2, 3, 10, 12

September 25 Voting, Interest Groups, and Elites

Fowler et al, Religion and Politics in America, chapters 4, 5, 6

James L. Guth, Lyman A. Kellstedt, John C. Green & Corwin E. Smidt, "America Fifty/Fifty." First Things 116 (October 2001): 19-26

John C. Green, Corwin E. Smidt, James L. Guth, and Lyman A. Kellstedt, "The American Religious Landscape and the 2004 Presidential Vote: Increased Polarization." Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (February 2005)

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, "Religion & Public Life: A Faith-Based Partisan Divide." (2005)

October 2 Maintaining (or Creating) the Wall of Separation

Fowler, et al, Religion and Politics in America, chapters 8, 9

McCreary County, Kentucky, et al. v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky et al. (2005)

II. Religion and American Political Development
October 9 At the Founding, 1630-1776

Morone, Hellfire Nation, introduction, chapters 1-3

Daniel L. Dreisbach, "Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Cheese." Religion and Liberty, 12, 3 (2002)

Mark A. Noll, "The American Revolution and Protestant Evangelicalism." Journalism of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Winter, 1993), pp. 615-638

October 16 The Abolitionist Movement and the Civil War, 1800-1865

Morone, Hellfire Nation, chapters 4-7

William Ellery Channing, Slavery (1835), Introduction

Frederick Douglass, "Fourth of July Oration" (1852)

J. Albert Harrill, "The Use of the New Testament in the American Slave Controversy: A Case History in the Hermeneutical Tension between Biblical Criticism and Christian Moral Debate." Religion and American Culture, 10, 2. (2000): 149-186

October 23 The Response to Industrialism and the Rise of the Activist State, 1870-1960

Morone, Hellfire Nation, chapters 8-13

October 30 Religion, Politics, and Activism: the 1960s

Morone, Hellfire Nation, chapter 14

Sydney E. Ahlstrom, "The Radical Turn in Theology and Ethics: Why It Occurred in the 1960's." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 387 (Jan., 1970), pp. 1-13.

Civil Rights

Adam Fairclough, "The Preachers and the People: The Origins and Early Years of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 1955-1959" Journal of Southern History 52:3 (August 1986): 403-440

Martin Luther King, Jr., "Paul's Letter to American Christians."

Allison Calhoun-Brown, "Upon This Rock: The Black Church, Nonviolence, and the Civil Rights Movement." PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 33, No. 2. (June 200) pp. 168-174

The Antiwar Movement

Richard John Neuhaus, "The War, the Churches, and Civil Religion." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 387 (January 1970), pp. 128-140

James J. Farrell, "Thomas Merton and the Religion of the Bomb." Religion and American Culture, 5, 1.
(1995): 77-98.

III. Religion and Contemporary American Politics
November 6 The Culture War and the Rise of the Religious Right

Fowler et al, Religion and Politics in America, chapter 7

Morone, Hellfire Nation, chapter 15

Phillip E. Hammond, "The Curious Path of Conservative Protestantism." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 480 (July 1985), pp. 53-62

Ronald E. Hopson and Donald R. Smith, "Changing Fortunes: An Analysis of Christian Right Ascendance within American Political Discourse." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 38, 1. (1999): 1-13

Donald G. Mathews, "Spiritual Warfare: Cultural Fundamentalism and the Equal Rights Amendment." Religion and American Culture, 3, 2 (1993): 129-154

Visit the Christian Coalition website. See the vision statement.

November 13 The Bush Presidency and the Limits of Revival

Linker, The Theocons, entire

November 27 Can the Left Reclaim its Religious Base?

Jim Wallis, "The Democrat's Religion Problem." Sojourners Magazine, 33, 2 (February 2004): 5

Louis Bolce & Gerald De Maio, "Our Secularist Democratic Party." The Public Interest, Fall 2002

Rob Garver, "Leftward Christian Soldiers," The American Prospect Online, June 24, 2005

Review the section on "our values" the issues, and the Jacksonville Declaration at the Christian Alliance for Progress website.

December 4 Course Conclusion and Discussion of Final Essays