This course examines religion and American politics. Although the metaphor of a “wall of separation” between government and religion is part of the American

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POS 4291: Religion, Democracy and American Government

3 Credit Hours

Instructor: TBA


Office: SO 384H

Office Hours:



This course examines religion and American politics. Although the metaphor of a “wall of separation” between government and religion is part of the American political and legal traditions, the separation of church and state has never meant that religion cannot or should not play a role in American politics. In fact, religion has played an important role in government and politics from the founding era, through the development of the American political system, to the modern political era. This course examines the role of religion in the U.S. system of democracy in order to better understand the various ways that religious activism has been a force for political change and defense of the status quo against change.

The course begins with an examination of religion and politics in the founding era. It includes an examination of the constitutional foundations, particularly the Framers’ views and the interpretations of the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. The course then examines public policies related to religion, including moral regulatory policy. Finally, the course examines the political behavior of individual voters and organized interests (i.e., political parties and interest groups. One of the related issues is the role of ideology, and the course examines the American political tradition of religious rhetoric in politics. Related issues include how race, ethnicity, and gender complicate the interactions between religion and politics, particularly with reference to public policies concerning issues such as education, sexual behavior, and marriage.

The course has three primary objectives. The first is to provide students with information about religion’s role in American politics. This includes reading primary and secondary source documents. The second objective is to develop communication skills. Students will learn to write effectively. The third objective is to develop critical thinking skills that will enable a student to assess contemporary debates about the role of religion in government and politics.

Required Books:

You are required to purchase the below three texts. Please purchase the most up-to-date edition if applicable.

  1. Kenneth Wald and Allison Calhoun-Brown, Religion and Politics in the United States, 6th edition (2010)

  2. James Morone, Hellfire Nation

  3. J Matthew Wilson, ed. From Pews to Polling Places: Faith and Politics in the American Religious Mosaic

Course Expectations:

This is an upper-division course. Students are assumed to have basic knowledge of American government. One valuable resource for learning about American government is Students are expected to attend class, complete readings as scheduled, and regularly participate in discussions. The exams are designed to assess all the assigned materials; questions will come from readings and lectures. Participation is an important part of the grade. Any student who is uncomfortable speaking in class will have the opportunity to participate in Blackboard discussions. Readings will be roughly 75-100 pages a week (some weeks more or less than others.) All assignments must be submitted ON TIME and IN CLASS. E-mail assignments will not be accepted whether late or on-time). There will be no makeups for the midterm or final exams. Of course, emergency situations do arise and these will be treated on a case-by-case basis.

Course Requirements:


Students are required to actively participate in class discussions and debate, but also students should utilize the Blackboard discussion forum to help flesh out key concepts and issues with their fellow classmates. The participation grade will be based on both in-class and Blackboard discussions.

Students will have three types of coursework: current event articles, response papers and 2 tests.

Current Events

Students will be required to complete four current event articles throughout the semester. While two of the current events have specific directions, all four current event assignments must address the following questions: Who is writing the article and what is the source (i.e. what newspaper, website, etc)? What is the topic of the article and what is the argument being made (i.e. summary of article)? Is there an ideological bias? What is the applicability of the article to the class? (i.e. Can you apply any of the insights from our readings to the current event article?) Please attach a copy of the article to your current event analysis. See course schedule for due dates.

Response Papers

Students will be required to write five response papers ( minimum 2 pages double-spaced, typed pages) over the course of the semester. Response papers should not only summarize the reading, but also critically address some of the questions listed on the syllabus for that given reading. Students will be graded on content, critical analysis, writing style, grammar, and spelling. See course schedule for specifics and due dates.


There will be a midterm exam and a final exam. The midterm and finals exam will consist of short response and essay questions. The final will NOT be cumulative.


Participation/ Discussion Boards: 10% (40 points)

Current Events: 10% (40 points) (4 current events/ 10 points each)

Response Papers: 20% (80 points) (5 papers counted/ 16 points each)

Midterm: 30% (120 points)

Final Exam: 30% (120 points)

Total Points: 400

Test and course grades will be based on the percentile system, with 90%=A-, 80%=B-, 70%=C-, 60%=D-, and below 60%=F. An Incomplete grade is available consistent with University policy where a student is not able to complete the course.

Use of Technology

The use of cellular phones, beepers, or “palm pilots” is prohibited during class. These instruments must be turned off to avoid distractions. Students who fail to comply with this rule will be asked to leave for the remainder of the period. Laptops are allowed but are to be used to take notes during the given class. Please do not use your laptops for other reasons during class time. Failure to comply with any part of this rule during exams will result in a failing grade for the exam and a student receiving any message from these instruments during exams will be subject to discipline according to the university honor code.

Honor Code

Florida Atlantic University Honor Code requires students to maintain the highest ethical standards. Academic dishonesty, including cheating and plagiarism, is considered a serious breach of these ethical standards, because it interferes with the University mission to provide a high quality education in which no student enjoys an unfair advantage over any other. Academic dishonesty also harms the University community, which is grounded in a system of mutual trust and places high value on personal integrity and individual responsibility. Harsh penalties are associated with academic dishonesty. For more information, see:

Blackboard Course

This is a Blackboard course, which means that some course materials (e.g., syllabus; assignments; lecture outlines; grading information) will be provided electronically on Blackboard. To access Blackboard, use your student’s username (FAUNet ID).  If you do not know your FAUNet ID you can go to, and enter your Z-number and PIN in order to obtain your FAUNet ID.   A student’s initial password for Blackboard is date of birth (MM/DD/YR).  The student email address in Blackboard will be set as their FAU email address (to forward email to another account students should go to MyFAU email and select “auto forward” under “options”).

Special Needs

In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), students who require special accommodations due to a disability to properly execute coursework must register with the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) located in Boca Raton - SU 133 (561-297-3880), in Davie - MOD I (954-236-1222), in Jupiter - SR 117 (561-799-8585), or at the Treasure Coast - CO 128 (772-873-3305), and follow all OSD procedures. Students with handicaps or special needs will need to coordinate with Student Services. The instructor and teaching assistant stand ready to assist in any way that we can. Every effort will be made to accommodate your needs within the guidelines set forth by the University.

Office Hours

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor on course readings, assignments, problems with the course, or simply to discuss interests in political science or law. Efforts will be made to schedule alternate meeting times if necessary.

Course Policy Changes and Amendments

Amendments to assignments, grading policies, or any other course policy may be changed based upon the class performance. Any such changes will be announced in class and students are responsible for those changes.

Course Schedule

Part I: Conceptualizing the Persistence of Religion and Politics

January 9th: Course Introduction

January 11th: Why do political scientists study religion? Political Science Approaches to Religion and Politics.

Questions to Consider:

How have political scientists and other scholars viewed the place of religion in American government and politics? What do Wald and Morone say about religion’s role in the development of American government? What are the secularization thesis, the class conflict thesis, and the modernization thesis? How does Wald view their usefulness in understanding the role of religion in American government and politics? What do Morone and Wald each say about religion’s vitality in the United States? What are the two moral traditions that Morone traces to Puritan culture? How does Morone’s analysis complicate the role of liberalism in American political culture? What is Lambert’s theory about the vitality of religion in American society? (from lecture)

Required Readings:

  1. Wald, “A Secular Society,” pgs. 1-21.

  2. Morone, Hellfire Nation, “Introduction,” pgs. 1-33.

Suggested Reading:

Leege, “Religion and Politics in Theoretical Perspective” in Rediscovering the Religious Factor**

January 16th: Martin Luther King Day: No Class

January 18th: Religion and American Political Culture: From the Puritans to Present Day

Questions to consider: What did the religious landscape of colonial America look like? How do Wald and Morone argue the Puritans impacted American political culture? What role did the Puritans play in the foundations of American government and politics? What is a covenant and how do the authors see the covenant paving the way for our Constitution? Did the Puritans set the foundation for our democratic culture? Is the United States a Christian Nation? What is a Civil Religion and does the United States have one? What are the two functions of a Civil Religion? Why does Wald argue that Civil Religion is a double-edged sword?

Discussion Board #1 Due January 18th: Respond to some of the following questions on the Blackboard discussion forum: How do Morone and Wald see democracy, religion, and government intersecting? Why do they place such an emphasis on Puritan culture and its impact on American political culture? What are some examples of Puritan’s impact? Of what relevance is Puritan culture to modern politics and government? How does Morone approach the Puritan tradition and its persistence during the course of American development? How does the Puritan need to define “us” from “them” shape our current understanding of American political identity and community?

Required Readings: (44 pages)

  1. Morone, Hellfire Nation, ch. 1, “Us: The City on a Hill,” pgs. 34-54.

  2. Wald, ch. 3, “Religion and American Political Culture,” pgs. 37-61.

Highly Recommended Reading:

Morone, Hellfire Nation, ch. 2, “Them: Heretic, Heathen and Witch,” pgs. 55-99.

Suggested Readings:

The Mayflower Compact:

Samuel P.Huntington,Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), p.xv-xvii and 336-366.

Sanford Kessler, “Tocqueville on Civil Religion and Liberal Democracy” (JSTOR)

Ted Jelen, “ Religion and the American Political Culture: alternative models of citizenship and discipleship”

Article on Tocqueville:

Norman Graebner, “Christianity and Democracy: Tocqueville’s views of Religion in America” (JSTOR)

Part II: Religion and American Political Development

Overarching questions: How have religion and morality shaped American political development? What are the primary determinants of public policy? Are religion and morality the primary determinants of change and continuity, or are institutions and secular forces the main change agents? How does Morone’s approach provide a different perspective on American government and politics (i.e. the competing impulses of liberalism and illiberalism)?

January 23rd and 25th: Religion and the Founding:

Questions to consider: What do the Founders’ writings indicate about their views on religion and its place in American government and politics? How does secondary scholarship treat the Founders’ views on the relationship between religion and the state and religion and politics? Is there a consensus? What is an established religion, and why did the Founding Fathers, by and large, oppose it?

Response Paper #1 (Due January 25th): Read Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” at the below link and respond to the following questions in 2 double-spaced, typed pages: What does Madison say about the relationship between religion and the state? What does Madison think about how religion affects the state and how the state affects religion? (Be specific as Madison lists a number of key points concerning these relationships). Finally, based on Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance” and Wald’s discussion of the Founding Fathers, what do you think the Founders thought religion, politics, and government?

Required Readings:

  1. John Locke, “A Letter Concerning Toleration”

  2. Declaration of Independence

  3. James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments”

  4. Morone, Hellfire Nation, ch. 3, “The Puritans Become America,” pgs. 100-122.

  5. Wald, ch.4, “Religion and the State: The Founders and Religion,” pgs. 63-78 (note you are only reading part of the chapter for this class).

Suggested Readings:

Lambert, “Providential and Secular America: Founding the Republic,” pgs. 14-40.

Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (Princeton UP, 2003).

February 1st: The Second Great Awakening, Slavery and the Civil War

Questions to consider: What was the Second Great Awakening? What are the defining characteristics of revivalism? How did revivalism impact American politics in the Antebellum period (i.e. abolition, slavery)? Did slavery divide Protestants? How did both the North and the South use religion to justify slavery? What role did women play in abolition? Is morality politics one of the causes of the Civil War?

Discussion Board #2 Due February 1st: Respond to some of the following questions on the Blackboard discussion forum: Using the Morone readings from this section, describe either the North or South’s position on abolition and slavery. What role did religion play in their arguments according to Morone? What does this tell us about the complex relationship between religion and politics?

***Heavy Reading***

Required Readings:

  1. Morone, Hellfire Nation, ch. 4, “Wrath of God in Black and White,” pgs. 119-143, ch.6, “South,” pgs. 169-182, and ch. 7, “North,” pgs. 183-215.

  2. Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Addresses:

February 6th and 8th: The Gilded Age and the Progressive Era: The last breath of the Neo-Puritans and “reforming sinners?”

February 6th: The Gilded Age and the Gospels

Questions to consider: Define the Gospel of Wealth and the Social Gospel. How do they differ and how are religion and politics connected in each of these arguments? How did the social, economic and political situation impact people’s lives in the late nineteenth century and how did religion intersect with the changing environment?

Required Readings:


February 8th: Prohibition: The Great Experiment

Response Paper #2 Due February 8th: In 2 double-spaced, typed pages, respond to the following questions: Summarize Morone’s treatment of prohibition. How does he classify the Prohibition period, reform the sinner or reform society? Why does Morone think the prohibition era is important to understanding American political development? What does Morone argue about the temperance movement and the growth or development of American government? Is Prohibition an aberration in American development or in many ways the essence of it?

Required Readings:

Morone, Hellfire Nation, ch. 10, “Temperance,” pgs. 281-287 (part of chapter) and ch.11, “Prohibition,” pgs. 318-344.

Suggested Reading:

David Hackett, “Gender and Religion in American Culture 1870-1930” (JSTOR).

February 13th: FDR and the New Deal: The Rise of Social Gospel and the Reform Society Tradition

Current Event # 1 Due February 13th

Questions to consider:

What role did religion play in the New Deal period? How did the Social Gospel contribute to the growth of government under FDR?

Required Readings:

Morone, Hellfire Nation, ch.12, “A New Deal Call to Alms,” pgs. 350-377.

Suggested Reading:

Lambert, “Religious and Political Liberalism: The Rise of Big Government from the New deal to the Cold War Era” 130-159.

February 15th and 20th: The Politics of the Cold War and the Sixties

Questions to consider: How does Morone classify the Cold War period? How does Morone classify the Sixties period? How does Morone see America developing during the Sixties? What role does morality play in this development?

Required Readings:

  1. Morone, Hellfire Nation, ch. 13, “Manifest Destiny and the Cold War,” pgs. 378-406 and ch. 14, “The Sixties,” pgs. 407-445.

  2. Dr. Martin Luther King, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,”

Part III: The Supreme Court and the Legal Regime defining Church/State Relations

February 22nd and 27th: The Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment

Points to consider:

What is the language of the 1st amendment? Did the Founders intend these clauses to be open to interpretation? How has the Supreme Court interpreted these clauses? Describe the continuity and change in the Court’s rulings. Describe the “de-moralization” of moral regulatory policy.

Response Paper #3 due February 22nd: From the following website ( choose two court cases, one pertaining to the establishment clause and one pertaining to the free exercise clause, then in 2 double spaced typed pages respond to the following questions: Summarize the facts of the case, the Court’s decision and their reasoning for said decision. Then, respond to the two cases, do you agree with the decisions why or why not? Should the 1st amendment be interpreted literally? Should there be a strict separation between church and state or is there room for some interaction between church and state? Should there be any restrictions on free exercise?

Required Readings:

Wald, ch.4, “Religion and the State,” pgs. 78-104 (you will be reading the remainder of this chapter).

Suggested Readings:

Scalia and Religion

Edwin Gaustad, “Thomas Jefferson, Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court” (JSTOR)

February 29th: Midterm

***March 5th- March 11th: Spring Break***

Part IV: Recent Developments

March 12th and 14th: Surveying the Modern Religious Landscape:

Questions to consider: What does the 21st Century religious landscape look like? How has the composition of religious groups changed over the past 400 years? What impact are these changes likely to have on religious pluralism? What newer religious groups play a growing role in the United States? What is the four step religious classification? What are the three faces or aspects of religion? What are the six religious families?

Current Event # 2 Due March 12th

Required Readings:

1. Wald, ch. 2, “Religion in the American Context,” pgs. 23-36.

  1. In From Pews to Polling Places, “Prayers, Parties, and Preachers: The Evolving Nature of Political and Religious Mobilization,” pgs. 1-28.

  2. PEW Forum on Religion & Public Life, Religious Landscape Survey 2008, read and review survey online at

Suggested Reading: (Faith in Flux)

March 19th and 21st: Religion, Political Interests and Behavior/ Religion and Public Opinion

Questions to Consider: What are the appropriate measures of religion’s influence on political behavior? Voting? Interest group activity? Impact on public policy? How are religious interests mobilized? What are the different ways in which religion enters into and impacts the political arena in modern American politics? What is the nature of the relationship between religion and public opinion? What issues warrant greater involvement of religious ideas, groups and institutions? How does religion and public opinion impact the formulation and implementation of public policy? Is religion’s role in public opinion helpful or harmful to a democracy?

Required Readings:

  1. Wald ch. 5, “Mobilizing Religious Interests,” pgs. 105-137 and ch. 6, “Religion and Political Action,” pgs. 139-177 (Don’t get too caught up in the details. Focus on the broad themes of sources of mobilization, means, and opportunity structures in chs. 5 and 6).

  2. Briefly review the following survey

Highly Recommended Reading:

Wald, ch.7, “Religion and Public Opinion,” pgs. 178-200 (We will cover religion and public opinion during this lecture and at various points over the course of this semester. You are only responsible for what is covered during the lectures)

Current Event #3 (Due March 19th): Choose an article dealing with churches and political lobbying. Summarize the article and then address the following questions: Should churches lobby? What role, if any, should religious institutions play in the political process? Is there a difference between the intersection of religion and the state and religion and politics?

You are encouraged to select your own article, but here are a few suggestions:

  1. Strom, Stephanie. 2006. “Group Seeks IRS Inquiry into 2 Ohio Churches Accused of Improper Campaigning.” New York Times January 16: A9.

  2. Fisher, Mark A. and Dennis M. Mahoney. 2006. “Laws of Man, God Obeyed,World Harvest Church Says.” Columbus Dispatch January 17: A1.

  3. Lampman, Jane. 2002. “Should Churches Convert Drivers of SUVs?” Christian Science Monitor 94(252): 2.

  4. Wald, Kenneth D., Dennis E. Owen, and Samuel S. Hill, Jr. 1988. "Churches as Political Communities." American Political Science Review 82(June): 531-548.

  5. _____. 1990. "Political Cohesion in Churches." The Journal of Politics 52(February): 197-215.

  6. David E Campbell, “Acts of Faith: Churches and Political Engagement” (JSTOR)

March 26th: Religious Rhetoric in Politics

Questions to Consider: Should political rhetoric include religion? Does a government official’s religious background affect their positions on issues? How do politicians, particularly presidential candidates, use religious rhetoric? What is a Civil Religion? Does the U.S. have one?

Required Readings:

Wade Clark Roof, “American Presidential Rhetoric from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush: Another Look at Civil Religion”

Response Paper #4 Due March 26th: Choose a speech by a president or presidential candidate and respond to the following questions: What is the speech about? What is the context surrounding the speech? Do you think religion is being used as a tool? Does this say something about American Exceptionalism or the role of religion in America? Is religious rhetoric evidence of the existence of a Civil Religion?

You are encouraged to select your own speech, but here are a few suggestions:

  1. Sen. John F. Kennedy, “Address to Greater Houston Ministerial Alliance” (Sept 12, 1960)

  2. Gov. Mitt Romney, “Faith in America” (Dec 6, 2007)

  3. President Obama, “Commencement Address at Notre Dame University” (May 17, 2009) Notre-Dame-Commencement/

  4. President George W. Bush, “Address to the Nation on Stem Cell Research” (August 9, 2001)

  1. President Obama, “Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships”

  2. President Obama, “Speech on Faith and Politics” (2006)

March 28th, April 2nd and April 4th: Backlash: Political Activism of Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants

Questions to consider: Is contemporary conservative religious activism an aspect of the backlash against liberalism? How do Evangelicals align politically? What are key issues on the evangelical agenda? Are there any differences in the modern Evangelical approach as opposed to revivalists and Evangelicals in the 18th and 19th centuries? Who are the key figures in the modern Evangelical movement? How does modern Evangelicalism reflect Morone’s central argument? What are the major differences between Mainline Protestants and evangelicals on political issues? Why do these differences emerge? How do Mainline Protestants align politically?

March 28th and April 2nd: Evangelicals: Return of the Reform the Sinner Ideology?

Response Paper #5 due April 2nd: Respond to the following questions in two double-spaced, typed pages: What is Lowi’s overall argument regarding the relationship between the Christian Right and the Republican party? According to Lowi are the evangelicals helpful or harmful to the Republican party? According to Lowi, is moralizing good for the public sphere? How do you think Morone and Wald would react to Lowi?

Required Reading:

1. Wald ch. 8, “The Political Mobilization of Evangelical Protestants,” pgs. 201-237.

2. Morone, Hellfire Nation, ch. 15, “Modern Morals” pgs. 450-492.

3. Theodore Lowi, The End of the Republican Era (select chapters on Blackboard).

April 4th: Mainline Protestants

Required Readings:

  1. Wald, ch. 9, “Continuity and Change in the Religious Center: Catholics, Mainline Protestants and Jews” pgs. 239-273 (read only pages on Mainline Protestants).

  2. In From Pews to Polling Places, “Evangelical and Mainline Protestants at the Turn of the Millennium,” pgs. 29-52.

April 9th and 11th: Catholics and Jews in American Politics

Questions to consider: How has the role of Catholics in American politics evolved over the last century? How do Catholics align politically? What are the key issues for Catholics? Is Abortion a Catholic Issue? How do American Jews align politically? Why? Are American Jews a single issue group?

April 9th: Catholics and American Politics

Required Reading:

  1. Wald, ch. 9, “Continuity and Change in the Religious Center: Catholics, Mainline Protestants and Jews,” pgs. 239-273 (read only pages on Catholics).

  2. In From Pews to Polling Places, “The Political Behavior of American Catholics: Change and Continuity,” pgs. 81-104.

April 11th: Jews and American Politics

Required Readings:

1. Wald, ch. 9, “Continuity and Change in the Religious Center: Catholics, Mainline

Protestants and Jews,” pgs. 239-273 (read only pages on American Jews).

2. In From Pews to Polling Places, “The Evolution of Jewish Pluralism,” pgs. 185-212.

Suggested Readings: (The Political Obligations of Catholics) (Cardinal: lobbying health care reform is duty) (bishops and healthcare bill-abortion)

Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State

Gregg Ivers, To Build a Wall: American Jews and the Separation of Church and State

April 16th, April 18th and April 23rd: Religion and the Politics of Race, Ethnicity and Gender

Questions to consider:

How do the politics of race and ethnicity intersect with religion in modern America? How do these intersections compare with the interactions of race, ethnicity and religion throughout American history? How do African-Americans generally align politically? Why does Wald include a separate category for Black Protestants? How do gender, religion and politics intersect? Are there certain issues that are gendered?

April 16th and 18th: Religion and the Politics of Race and Ethnicity

Current Event #4: Due April 18th: Choose one of the following religious/ ethnic / gender groups (Women, Homosexuals, African American Protestants, Latino Catholics or Latino Protestants, Muslim Americans or another minority racial, ethnic or religious group) and locate a current event article that deals with the respective group and the interaction between religion and the political realm. Summarize the article and then critically analyze it by tying it back to Wald and the articles from From Pews to Polling Places and their treatment of that specific group.

Required Readings

  1. Wald, ch. 10, “Religion and the Politics of Ethnic and Religious Minorities,” pgs. 275-307.

  2. In From Pews to Polling Places, “The Politics of American Muslims” pgs. 213-250.

  3. In From Pews to Polling Places, “Power in the Pews? Religious Diversity and Latino Political Attitudes and Behavior,” pgs. 161-184.

April 23rd: Religion, Gender and American Politics

Required Readings:

Wald, ch. 11, “The Other Minorities: Women and Gay People,” pgs. 309-344.

Websites on the Defense of Marriage Act:

April 25th: Reflecting on Religion and American Political Life

Course Reflection Questions:

So, what is the role of religion in American government and politics? What does the relationship among religion, government and politics look like in the 21st century? Are we once again in the Social Gospel period? Where are the Neo-Puritans? Is religion necessary and beneficial in our democracy or is it harmful? What does Wald argue in his conclusion?

Required Readings:

  1. Wald, ch. 12, “Religion and American Political Life,” pgs. 348-372.

  2. In From Pews to Polling Places, “Seculars, Antifundamentalists, and the New Religious Divide in the American Electorate,” pgs. 251-276.

Final Exam: TBA


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