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Unit information: From Washington to Waco: Explorations in Twentieth-century Religion and History (Level I Special Field) in 2018/19

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Unit name From Washington to Waco: Explorations in Twentieth-century Religion and History (Level I Special Field)
Unit code HIST20087
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. John Lyons
Open unit status Not open



HIST23008 Special Field Project

School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Without some understanding of the role that religion has played in American history, it is impossible to interpret many of the historical actions/reactions of its leaders and people adequately. Beginning with the origins and development of civic religion that underlie the separation of church and state, this unit examines a number of twentieth-century expressions of religiosity and their impacts upon a variety of contentious issues in American politics and culture. Examples will be drawn from areas such as the First Amendment and its implementation, presidential politics, law-making and enforcement, popular protest movements, State-Federal interactions, popular culture, religious sectarianism, the Bible belt, gun control, and foreign policy.

The unit aims to introduce students to the intellectual tools required to contextualise and understand the actions of and commentary offered by those living with an American context.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to demonstrate:

1. an in-depth historical knowledge of the central role that religions play in American politics and life;

2. a deeper awareness of how to approach long term historical analysis;

3. the ability to set individual issues within their longer term historical context;

4. the ability to analyse and draw conclusions from the material studied about issues of continuity and change;

5. the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate general historical points;

6. the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically and to form and express an individual viewpoint.

Teaching details

1 x 2 hour seminar weekly

Assessment Details

2-hour written examination (100%). This will assess ILOs 1-6.

Reading and References

K.A. Brady, The Distinctiveness of Religion in American Law: Rethinking Religion Clause Jurisprudence (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

C.A. Brekus (ed.), The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past (University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

P.Harvey and P.Goff (eds), The Columbia Documentary History of Religion in America since 1945 (Columbia University Press, 2005)

J.W. Martin & M.A. Nicholas (eds), Native Americans, Christianity, and the Reshaping of the American religious Landscape (University of North Carolina Press ,2010).

K.G.C. Newport, The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect (Oxford University Press, 2006)

G.S. Smith, Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American presidents (Oxford University Press, 2015)