RELST 238 / WES 200: Pivots in American Religion


This class is designed to introduce students to significant turning points in American religion. These turning points are often the result of the confrontation not of people but of ideas – often related not only to religion traditionally understood but also to broad views of society, governance, economics, and other factors. The confrontation of these opposing ideas – an inevitable situation in a diverse society – often results in a kind of synthesis, a blending of elements that transforms both sides (consciously or not). While such encounters occur everywhere every day, this course will identify those that are among the most significant in their impact on the history and nature of religion in America, and through their examination seek to understand how we have gotten to where we are today.

In addition, because this course is listed as both RELST and WES200, you are reminded that the Wesleyan Seminars are an immersion into liberal arts education. Within the seminars, students will learn how to identify complex problems and issues, consult expert sources, question assumptions, consider disparate points of view, develop complex personal positions, and present conclusions. The three seminars are progressively more sophisticated in their approaches and expectations.

Seminars are not merely places where knowledge is imparted, but where it is exchanged and created. To successfully complete a seminar, you need to engage actively with the course material, me, and your classmates. As a community of learners, we will work together to explore and consider our topic from a number of different perspectives. Each person’s participation is crucial.


By the end of the semester, you should be:

   familiar with some of the more significant turning points in American religious history;

   familiar with some of the important groups involved in the shaping of American religious history;

   familiar with the use of primary documents and first-hand accounts in the construction of historical analysis; and

   able to recognize opposing viewpoints and their roles in transitional moments in American religious history.

   Because this class is listed as both RELST & WES200, you should also achieve “AAC&U [Association of American Colleges & University] 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.

Students in the RELST version of this course are expected to meet the same standards – and will be evaluated on the same measures – as students in the WES version of this course.

Texts & Readings

The following are possible texts for the class. You may purchase them wherever you wish, but you are solely responsible for purchasing the correct titles (and edition).

Corrigan, John, and Winthrop Hudson. Religion in America, 7th edition (CORRIGAN / HUDSON)

NOTE: I have chosen this edition because of price; you are free to use the newer edition, but you should check with me before doing so.

Additional course reading (including primary historical documents) is accessible online.




Class Participation (10% + 10% = 20%)

Your grade in this category will be evaluated in two ways:

Attendance (10%): You are expected to attend all scheduled classes. Your grade will be calculated by dividing the number of classes attended by the total number of classes. There are no exceptions; there are no excuses.

Discussion participation (10%): You are expected to participate fully in regular 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.

Pre-Seminar Queries (6 x 5% = 30%)

Over the course of the semester, you are expected to submit questions to be addressed in the “Pivot” seminars (one per seminar topic). You may do this for any 6 of the seminars (excluding the one for which you have elected to take primary responsibility). Your question must be directly related to the readings most recently assigned for that seminar (including a direct quotation with page number citation).

“Pivot”  Project (20% + 10% + 20% = 50 %)

You will be building an analysis of a specific pivot in American religious history, integrating your own research and an opposing viewpoint, using the tools and instruction provided in class.

Part I (20%): Leading Seminar Discussion / Presentation

You will select a “Pivot” seminar topic and lead the class discussion on the assigned date (see “Schedule of Readings & Assignments“). You are expected to identify, locate, and submit primary source materials related to the topic by the class immediately preceding your assigned date so that they can be posted and shared with the class.

PROMPT:   What are the significant issues represented in the “Pivot” topic? How are they opposed? How are they ultimately reconciled?

Pivot Seminar Guidelines

Part II (10%): Draft Submission

On the date indicated, you are expected to write up your “Pivot” presentation in draft form (see “Schedule of Readings & Assignments“). This draft will serve as the foundation for your final seminar paper.

The draft is not expected to be a piece of polished writing but should contain your assertion related to the nature of the “Pivot” (a thesis statement), your analysis of the evidence of the issue, and your conclusion based on your analysis of that evidence.

Part III (20%): Final Paper

Part III is the culmination of your work and should be a refined piece of academic writing that reflects your initial entrance into the topic (what you prepared for seminar), your analysis of the primary and secondary materials included in your bibliography, and any corrections or responses to suggestions made on the draft (submitted earlier).

Part III is expected to be approximately 9 pages long (approximately 2700 words, double spaced, 1″ margins, 12-point font), to assert a position, to integrate the data presented from the primary and secondary materials representing differing positions, and to conclude reasonably based on that data. It is due on the last scheduled day of class (see “Schedule of Readings & Assignments”).

The final report needs to demonstrate student engagement with the Wesleyan Seminar objectives (listed above).

Schedule of Readings & Assignments

Classroom Policies