American Religious History

History132C draft2

About the Course

History 132C, American Religious History, taught by Professor Ronit Y. Stahl, surveys religion in the land that became the United States from colonial contact with indigenous people to the present with an emphasis on how religion has shaped and been shaped by, the American experience. It addresses enduring tensions between the presence of religious diversity, the ideals of religious pluralism, and the desire for religious power. What are the relationships between various American religious traditions and American society, politics, and culture? How have religious groups articulated their values to address questions of law, politics, culture, and economics? How does religion intersect with race, class, gender, and sexuality to form American identities and transform religious communities?

Themes and Questions Addressed

Why, given the constitutional separation of religion and state, does religion continue to roil American life? Why, given the diverse array of religious traditions present in the United States, do claims that America is a Christian nation persist? This course offers an opportunity to learn and think about how religion has shaped and been shaped by, the American experience through a survey of religion in the lands that became the United States from colonial contact with indigenous peoples to the present. In particular, it will address enduring tensions between the presence of religious diversity, the ideals of religious pluralism, and the desire (by some) for religious power. What are the relationships between various American religious traditions and American society, politics, and culture? How have religious groups articulated their values to address questions of economic organization, cultural production, legal rights, and political discourse? How does religion intersect with race, class, and gender to form American identities, transform religious communities, and influence American society? Readings will include first-hand accounts, literature, media, and art produced by people in the past describing religious views, practices, and encounters; legal cases over differing interpretations of the First Amendment’s religion clauses; and scholarly analyses of the role of religion in American life. Through lectures, readings, and writing, students will acquire the historical understanding and analytic tools to assess recurring struggles over religious power and religious pluralism in America.

About Ronit Stahl

Dr. Ronit Y. Stahl is an Assistant Professor of History, and a member of the Religious Diversity cluster of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. Dr. Stahl is also a Faculty Affiliate, Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, and the Center for Jewish Studies. In 2018, she was awarded the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize for her book Enlisting Faith: How The Military Chaplaincy Shaped Religion and State in Modern America (Harvard University Press, 2017)(link is external). The prize, awarded by the American Society of Church History, honors outstanding scholarship in church history by a first-time author and comes with a cash award of $2500.
image of Ronit Stahl's book, Enlisting Faith, hardcover book with an image of chaplains and military at a shoreline

Enlisting Faith, How the Military Chaplaincy Shaped Religion and State in Modern America (Harvard University Press, 2017) by Ronit Y. Stahl