SOCS 638
Religion and Civic Life in America from the Puritans to the Present

Elizabeth McAlister

A religious family genealogy is much like a family tree. It is a way of diagramming your family's religious heritage so you can get a picture of where they fit into the American religious historical story.

1. Go back at least as far as your grandparents (further if you can) on both sides of your family (if you can) to gather information. Include as many aunts, uncles and cousins as you can.

2. Make a diagram of a family tree, on which you will record as much of the following information as you can to uncover a religious mini-biography of each person:

a. Name
b. State where raised
c. Years of birth and death (approximate if necessary)
d. Self-described religious identity of the person (ex: "Baptist, Jewish, etc.)
e. Changes in religious affiliation with approximate dates. (ex: Methodist, 1945; Presbyterian, 1967)
f. Migration changes (ex: New York to Middletown, 2002)
g. If a person has held a position in a religious organization (priest, pastor, rabbi, missionary, medium, etc.) put an * by their name.

Write a 3-4 page essay that is your family's religious (and migration) narrative. What is the story of your family in terms of religion? How does your particular story fit into the larger history told by Albanese (and other course readings? Be sure to read around in Albanese and place your family in the context of the American religious history Albanese describes. What is the story of your family as the family tells it? What is the role of religion (if any) in the story. Were there conflicts based on religion (ex: religious inter-marriage, conversions, decision to enter or leave a religious order, child-rearing conflicts)? In mixed religion marriages, what religious/ethnic identity dropped out (if any)? Why? Might your family have been working out themes; meta-messages in the story about America and/or about religion (moving from insecurity to security, moving from impurity to purity, moving from paradise to hell, moving from persecution to God's New Israel, or vice versa, etc)? Are there mythologies within these stories, that is, assumed dimensions of the story that in fact might be said to be ideological, or particularly "socially/family constructed?" (They might be pro-religion, anti-religion, pro-American, anti-American, they might be pro-science, anti-superstitious, or raced or classed). Weak papers will be rambling genealogies with no reference to Albanese; strong papers will be essays that tell your family's story with lots of references to Albanese.

This diagram will be difficult to send electronically, so you may send it to me at:
Prof. McAlister
Wesleyan University
Department of Religion
Middletown, CT 06457

As with the other assignments, do bring this to class and we will share with one another.

This paper will involve your own original field research, followed by a written 5-page ethnographic report. You will go to a site of American religion at a time when there is ritual activity there. (A church, temple, mosque or synagogue service, for example. If you want to work on a ritual of public Protestantism; civil religion, see me first). Please exclude services held by your own religious group. You may want to call ahead and ask for an invitation to the service if that will make you feel more comfortable. Or, you might go to a service at the site of a friend or colleague, along with that person. Attend the service. Take field notes if appropriate. Take church bulletins or newsletters, pamphlets or programs, and attach to assignment. Return home and reflect on the service, and write your essay.

The physical environment: architecture, the members: What age, race, gender, class composition? Describe the parts of the service, the ritual movements, music, etc.

The service in terms of the four religious elements that Albanese discusses in her Introduction: of creed, code, cultus (ritual) and community:
--Creed. Note elements of the group's religious beliefs
--Code. Note group rules for ethical behavior
--Cultus. What were the group's rituals? What was the main focus of the service? Preaching? Singing? Liturgy? Meditation? Holy Communion? Possession trance?
--Community. What did you learn about the people in the group by attending their service? Was the atmosphere warm? Describe the decorum. Did they seem focused on something other than community? Did anything make you feel uncomfortable? Why? What was most interesting about the service? Why? What is the tone of the service? Casual? Formal? Was it revivalist? (emotional and public?) Was it meditative? (inward and private?).

The service to our readings. How does the group fit into American religious history as presented in Albanese? Discuss the American history of your group, citing the readings. How are they related to American Protestism? If Protestant, are they liberal, conservative or fundamentalist? If Jewish, are they Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, etc. Were there any references to the return to Zion, to God's Israel? If so were they theological, and/or did they also refer to Americanism? Were there references to moralism? Activism? Individualism? Millenialism?

If American religion can be understood as a marketplace, what are the members "buying" or "getting" in this organization and at this service?

Your paper should be about half ethnographic description and half analysis. The analysis section should cite two to three works you have read for the course so far.

Choose one of the full-length texts listed below and write a critical review of the book as it relates to the themes of the course. Topics you may discuss are: Americanism (choseness), American Civil Religion, Religious marketing and spectacle, Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, Feminism, etc. How is the book positioned within the greater conversation on American Religion? How does the religious group fit into the theme of God's New Israel? How does the group work in the "religious marketplace?" Pay attention to the methodology of the scholar and to their goals in writing the book. You will construct your own argument about the text you choose and elaborate themes of your choosing.

Please write 3-5 pages double spaced, in 14 point font.

Do bring your book review to class during our week of meetings, as you will each share your reviews and present the book to the class.

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness
James Baldwin, Go Tell it on the Mountain
Janette Oke, Love Comes Softly
Chaim Potok, The Chosen
Sherry Reynolds, The Rapture of Canaan
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin
Anna Yezierska, Bread Givers

Non-fiction Studies:
--Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and other Pagans in America Today
--Randall Balmer, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture of America
--Vine Deloria, God is Red: A Native View of Religion
--John McGreevy, Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Twentieth Century Urban North
--Leigh Schmidt, Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays