Introduction Sociology 159

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  • Sociology 159
  • Course website:
  • Two midterms (30% each) and a final exam (40%)
  • Office hours: 2:00-3:00, TTh
  • “3/18/12: Some man-on-man action disrupted a Rick Santorum rally at a Christian school in suburban Arlington Heights on Friday.
    • As Santorum addressed the crowd, two men in the back stood up and started yelling, "Mic Check!" Then, when they had everyone's attention, embraced in a prolonged kiss, FM News 101.1 reported.
    • The crowd responded by chanting, "USA! USA!," as security escorted the men out of the room.”
  • “This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”
    • Barack Obama, Inaugural Address
  • Religion has been a vital force in forming American political culture from the pre-Revolutionary era to the present day. This course will examine the role of religion in forming diverse social and political identities within the United States and how religious cleavages and language are deployed in contemporary politics. Further, it will explore the ways that religion influences American ideas about identity and community at the structural level, shaping American self-understanding, identity, and sense of national purpose.
  • Course text:
  • Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History, University Of Chicago Press, 978-0226583983
  • This book is available at the University bookstore, but may be available at less cost from other outlets, such as All other assigned readings, as well as lecture slides, copies of the syllabus, and all other course materials can be found at the course website,
  • Introduction and Historical Background
  • 4/3 Introduction
  • 4/5 John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”; Perry Miller, “Errand into the Wilderness”; Mark A. Noll, America’s God, pp. 44-50, ch. 5
  • “His Almost Chosen People”: American Civil Religion
  • 4/10 Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America”, Adam Gómez, “The Nation Invisible”, Introduction
  • 4/12 Gómez, ch. 1
  • 4/17 Gómez, ch. 2
  • 4/19 Gómez, ch. 3
  • 4/24 Gómez, ch. 4
  • 4/26 Gómez, ch. 5, Conclusion
  • 5/1 MIDTERM
  • “A Faith in the Ultimate Justice of Things”: Religion, Slavery, Civil Rights
  • 5/3 W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, I, X, XIII, XIV
  • 5/8 Thomas Bacon, “A Sermon To Maryland Slaves”; Frederick Douglass, “Address on ‘Evangelical Flogging’”; George D. Armstrong, “The Christian Doctrine of Slavery: God’s Work in God’s Way”; William E. Montgomery, “The Preachers”
  • 5/10 Allison Calhoun-Brown, “Upon This Rock: The Black Church, Nonviolence, and the Civil Rights Movement”; Hortense J. Spillers, “Martin Luther King and the Style of the Black Sermon”, George Wallace, “1963 Inauguration Speech”
  • 5/15 “Statement by Alabama Clergymen”; Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”; “I Have a Dream” speech
  • 5/17 MIDTERM
  • “Too Much Certainty of Justice Always Leads to Injustice”: Democratic Crusade
  • 5/22 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History, ch. I-IV
  • 5/24 Niebuhr, ch. V-VIII, Barack Obama, “Nobel Peace Prize Lecture”, George W. Bush, “Farewell Address”
  • “Echo Chambers”: Religion in Contemporary American Politics
  • 5/29 Robert E. Putnam & David D. Campbell, American Grace, ch. 4 & 11
  • 5/31 Putnam & Campbell, ch. 12; Pat Robertson, “Restore States’ Rights and Public Morality”; Carmel Perez Snyder, The Oklahoman (Oct. 23, 2004), “Marriage, Family Advocate in State to Support Coburn”
  • 6/5 Ilir Disha et al., “Historical Events and Spaces of Hate: Hate Crimes against Arabs and Muslims in Post-9/11 America”; Barry A. Hollander, “Persistence in the Perception of Barack Obama as a Muslim in the 2008 Presidential Campaign”; Barack Obama, “Call to Renewal”
  • 6/7 Barack Obama, “A More Perfect Union”; Mitt Romney, “Faith in America”; Pew study on Mormons, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, "Romney's Mormon Faith Likely a Factor in Primaries, Not in a General Election", “Mormons in America" (Executive Summary)
  • 6/12 Final Exam
  • All dates on course schedule are approximate: reality will no doubt intrude. Both midterms and the final exam must all be completed to receive a passing grade. Different arrangements for graded assignments will be made only in cases of documented medical or personal emergency. This course adheres to all university standards for academic honesty, and all papers must be submitted to in order for credit to be received. UC San Diego’s academic integrity code can be viewed at:

Big Questions

  • What has been the influence of religion on American identity and thinking on the nature of the American state?
    • At the surface and structural levels
  • What role does religion play in uniting and dividing American society?
  • How has religious thought shaped American foreign policy?
  • In what ways does religion affect American politics today?

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