RELST 232 / WES 200: Religion & American Politics

Course Description

This course is designed to investigate the relationship between religion and politics in the United States, paying particular attention to the role of traditional religious identities and issues while also acknowledging non-traditional religious movements, ideas, and issues.

The class will explore the general role of religion in upcoming elections and the debate over religion and politics. Attention will focus on the upcoming elections, and students will develop case studies and evaluations of religious themes in senatorial and gubernatorial elections in specific states. The semester will conclude with a general discussion of the role of religion in policy-making.

While general contextualization will form the foundation of this class, great emphasis will be placed on the current election cycle and the role of religion in that cycle. Students will be expected to be informed of the current debates in the various national elections, and will be required to present materials on specific elections in class.


This course is designed to:

Provide you with an understanding of the role traditional religious identity plays in the political process;

Enable you to identify and track religious issues as they develop in an election cycle;

Provide you with the ability to identify religious aspects of public policy and election debates.

Because this class is listed as both RELST and WES200, you should also achieve “AAC&U [Association of American Colleges and Universities] milestone level 3 standards”:

“Critically consider an issue or problem”;

“Consult sources and consider expert opinions”;

“Question assumptions and attend to relevant contexts when presenting a position”;

“Develop a specific position while acknowledging different sides of an issue”; and

“Articulate conclusions effectively before an audience.”

NOTE: WES Seminar II courses may be used to count towards a major; however, if you do so you will have to complete another Seminar II to complete your general studies requirements.

Texts & Readings

The following texts are available at the VWC bookstore. You are free to purchase them elsewhere, but should check with me to be certain you are purchasing the proper edition(s).

Hertzke, Allen D., Laura R. Olson, Kevin R. Den Dulk, Robert Booth Fowler. Religion and Politics in America: Faith, Culture and Strategic Choices, 6th edn. (HERTZKE).

Burge, Ryan. The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going. (BURGE).

In addition, articles are linked to the class Web site.


Responsibilities & Evaluation
Class Participation (30 points)

As per College policy, you are expected to attend all classes and complete all assignments. In this class, you are expected to participate fully in class discussions and engage the materials in class.

Regular and thoughtful participation in class, as well as enthusiastic participation in the assignments, will be rewarded in this category; mindless blather will not. Students uncomfortable with classroom participation requirements are expected to discuss this with me privately at their first convenience.

Current events will be presented in class as they unfold, and will be a significant part of classroom discussions as they occur. Given the nature of this course, you are expected to keep up on current events, particularly as they have an impact on our topic. (See, for example, “News Updates.”) You may be called on in class to discuss particular timely events, and part of your class participation grade will be determined by your awareness of such issues. It is therefore in your best interest to stay informed.

Pre-Election Data Report (20 points)

On the date indicated on the schedule, you will submit a (non-argumentative) data report providing data related to religion in the specific election (either senatorial or gubernatorial) to which you have been assigned.

Significant data for inclusion in the Pre-Election Report may include:

religious demographics of the state;

religious information about the candidates (affiliations, statements, etc.);

 ⇒ religious issues of importance in previous elections in the state;

significant issues as portrayed in media coverage of the campaign; AND

possible “invisible” (hidden, unrecognized) religious issues at play in the current election cycle.

You are expected to follow the elections by reading at least one newspaper from the state, as well as national media covering the state election.

Manuscript Analysis (20 points)

On the assigned date, you will submit an analysis of Ryan Burge’s The Nones. This report should not merely repeat the contents of the book, but should be a blend of information from the book with data from class, and the specific race you have been assigned to cover. This report should be no fewer than 5 pages (doubled spaced).

Post-Election Analysis (30 points)

On the scheduled exam date, you will submit an analysis of the election you have been following. This report will contain the following components:

A general synthesis of the information from the Pre-Election Presentation (religious demographic information, media coverage of the campaign [particularly in terms of religion or religious issues], “invisible” religious issues at play, etc.);

A brief report of the election results (including as much detail as possible regarding voter breakdown); and

A thorough analysis of the applicability of the Burge thesis and the role religion played in the specific election.

This final section must include a reflection of materials, theories, and concepts developed during the semester (in the readings and in class), as well as consideration of important issues from the local media. It must consider the elements identified above in the description of the “Pre-Election Data Report”; even the absence of religion as an issue should be considered, if this is conspicuous.

Please keep in mind: This report is NOT an analysis of whether or not religion was the deciding factor in the election outcome. Rather, it is an analysis of the presence (or lack) of religion in the campaign, and an exploration of the possible impact of that presence (or lack).

Schedule of Readings & Assignments

Classroom Policies