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Unit information: From Washington to Waco: Explorations in Twentieth-century Religion and History (Level I Special Field) in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

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




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:

  1. Identify and analyse the central role that religions play in American politics and life
  2. Understand and use historical methods specific to the study of Religion and History in America in the 20th Century.
  3. Discuss and evaluate the historiographical debates that surround the topic
  4. Understand and interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical points
  5. Present their research and judgements in written forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level I.

Teaching details

1 x 2hr Seminar per week

1 x 1hr Seminar per week

Assessment Details

  • Portfolio Part 1: 750 word primary source analysis [10%] (ILOs 1-3)
  • Portfolio Part 2: 750 word broad question [10%] (ILOs 1-3)
  • 4000 word research project [80%] (ILOs 1-5)

Reading and References

  • Marcela Cristi, From Civil to Political Religion (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2013)
  • Kathleen A. Brady, The Distinctiveness of Religion in American Law: Rethinking Religion Clause Jurisprudence (Cambridge University Press, 2015)
  • Catherine A. Brekus (ed.), The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past (University of North Carolina Press, 2007)
  • Paul Harvey and Philip Goff (eds), The Columbia Documentary History of Religion in America since 1945 (Columbia University Press, 2005)
  • Kenneth G.C. Newport, The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect (Oxford University Press, 2006)
  • Gary S. Smith, Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents (Oxford University Press, 2015)