From Nuns to "Nones": Religion and American Politics
Since the earliest days of colonial settlement, American society has always been marked by extraordinary religious diversity. Americans in the early 21st century find themselves at a pivotal cultural moment where, we might say, the stories the religious and cultural “conventional wisdom” about the nation and its history seem increasingly disconnected from reality “on the ground.” Evidence of this disconnect is all around. What was once called the “Protestant mainline” continues to shrink in numbers and cultural influence. A small but growing American Muslim community struggles for acceptance into the American mainstream. Lawsuits over the Obama health care legislation’s “contraception mandate” pit a coalition of religious groups against the federal government; a case that will likely be decided by the Supreme Court in its upcoming session. Even the evangelical movement, which powerfully re-entered American politics during the 1970s and 1980s, has undergone generational turnover and struggles to connect with a new generation of American youth. And perhaps most remarkably, the fastest-rising religious demographic in most public opinion surveys is “none.” This seminar will explore some of these profound dislocations, and Americans’ various reactions to them. How have some Americans attempted to reassert American Christianity or some variant thereof as fundamental to what it means to be American? How have other Americans embraced diversity and articulated multiculturalism as the foundation of what it means to be an American? How do some navigate issues of religious identity and national identity by simultaneously allowing space for both common values and deep diversity on the ground?