Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Welcome to HIST 4394 (American Religious History): One Nation, Many Faiths! My name is Phil Sinitiere, and I'll be your instructor this summer.

This class blog, I hope, will be a place to enrich class discussion, offer reflections on topics we don’t necessarily cover in class, and in general be a place to learn, and learn collaboratively.

Just a few ground rules before we get started: During this course I plan to post regularly on the blog, and most posts will have a question (or questions) to which you will be required to respond as well as a deadline by which you will have to respond. I will regularly update the blog (at various periods throughout the day), so you will want to check it once or twice daily. This will count as part of your class participation grade. As the blog timestamps your reply, late replies will lose one letter grade per day. And a word about the comments policy: As weblog manager reserves the right to delete inappropriate comments and meaningless observations. I'm of the conviction that substantive, constructive comments foster better discussion, so I look very forward to interacting with you here.


Since we will discuss many issues related to interpreation and point of view, I think it will be helpful for you to spend some time learning a little more about the authors of the books for this course. (Future posts will feature the authors of additional readings, but what follows covers the four main texts for this course.)

1. Patrick Allitt, Major Problems in American Religious History (Houghton-Mifflin, 2000)

2. Harry S. Stout, Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 1991)

3. Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America (Oxford, 1995)

4. Edward J. Blum, W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet (Pennsylvania, 2007)

Ok, here's the opening blog assigment. These are the opening paragraphs on the class syllabus:

Albert J. Raboteau, religion professor at Princeton University and specialist in African American religious history, once wrote, “Like literature, history has the capacity to expand our vision of human lives and cultures. History also demonstrates the limitations of one’s own culture, its values, assumptions, and beliefs. To familiarize the alien and to alienate the familiar is one of the basic purposes of education” (from A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African American Religious History [1995]).

Raboteau’s punchy observation captures the aims of “American Religious History: One Nation, Many Faiths.” This course aims to expand your vision of American religious history; provide an open forum to discuss the complexities of religious experiences throughout America’s past; reflect on current trajectories and practices; to familiarize that which is unknown, or, to use Raboteau’s formulation, alienate that which is most familiar. To put it another way, religion is sometimes most operative where it is most hidden, and sometimes its visibility obscures its complexity. Although the parameters of a semester, let alone a short summer course, cannot begin to uncover fully all that which comprises religion in America, it can provide something of a framework, a working template for analysis, discussion, and evaluation.

Here are questions for consideration: What are your impressions of Raboteau's claims? Do you agree or disagree? Why? Does history--and the study of it--have the power to transform one's point of view? Why or why not? In your opinion, how might the study of religious history serve the same purpose? If so, what is the best way, in your opinion, to learn transformatively in the sense that Raboteau suggests?

Post your comments before class on Thursday, July 10, 6pm CST.


Anonymous said...

I meant to discuss posting at the end of class. There are several options. You can sign up for blogger account (if you have a gmail account, that sign in info should work), or you can simply post as "Anonymous" and then sign your name at the botton of the post. I'd also suggest composing your response in Word, and then copy and paste into the comment box as Blogger will sometimes time you out and you will lost what you've written. It doesn't happen all the time, but it is unpredictable. I look forward to your comments.

Prof. Sinitiere

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Raboteau’s claims about history, which are definitely applicable to the study of religion. Raboteau seems to be suggesting it is imperative to have a full or complete understanding of history, or as complete an understanding as one can manage to acquire in order to have a better comprehension of our current circumstances as human beings. Essentially, history must or should be viewed from multiple perspectives. History may not necessarily have the power to transform one’s point of view or opinion, but perhaps it might provide that person with a more solid background and a better foundation for their current beliefs, values, and traditions. As a result, they will grow to understand the causation behind these concepts, which are certainly integral aspects of their life.

The study of religious history might serve the same purpose in that it will provide historical context not only for the time at which a particular religion was “created”, but historical context for the religion’s original affiliates as well. (How did a historical figure’s circumstances or background lead him or her to follow a particular faith? What effect did it have?) Considering the “limitations of one’s own culture” and the need “to familiarize the alien and to alienate the familiar”, I believe the best way by which to gain a superior understanding of religious history is to consult reading material authored by individuals outside of one’s own native country, which will most assuredly supply that person with a broader panorama from which to examine religious history.