Religious Studies 125W

Modern Christianity


This handout is meant to provide a structure for the next couple of classes in RS 125, to help you find your way through the readings. In all classes, I'll be asking people to produce good quotes from the documents to illustrate the themes we are discussing - it's really not hard to do. Bring examples of the readings to class to share!!


**On September 29, we will talk about religion during the era of the American revolution, and in the early national period. This will be based on readings mainly drawn from chapters four and five in Allitt. However, the section on slavery and Black religion we will save for October 4.


These are the issues we will discuss.


1.     Was there a religious element to the American revolution? What was it? (Be aware that the British called the American movement "the Presbyterian Revolt". What sort of religious groups would have supported revolution and why? Who w0ould have opposed it?


2.     The new United States claimed to be a Novus Ordo Seclorum, a new order of worlds (or "New World Order" if you prefer). How did this sense of a new age, a special American destiny, affect the different religious traditions?


3. What was the impact of the revolution on religious life?


4. Who - what religious groups and traditions - benefited from the revolution?


5. What groups suffered as a result of the revolution? How did they cope, how did they change in order to survive?


6. The revolution marked an amazing upsurge of new religions and new movements. Why? What were these groups like? What strikes us as odd about them? Why was there so much apocalyptic excitement around 1780 or so, again in 1798, etc?


7. How did women emerge as leaders in these new religions? Give me some examples


8. Did it surprise you that magic and occultism were so common in the America of this time? Angels, dreams and visions were by no means an innovation of the cultish 1960s and 1970s!


9. What was the impact of new democratic and republican ideas on American religion?


10. Why did the new nation practice a greater degree of religious toleration? What arguments were made for and against toleration? Who benefited from this trend?


11. Were some of the new ideas and sects so extreme that they wandered beyond the boundaries of Christianity?


12. Through these chapters, we find lots of examples of mystical or visionary experiences. Find one of these that really impresses you, and tell me why - what do you think is happening here? Are there other ways of seeing this kind of experience other than messages from Heaven?


13. Why was conversion such a powerful idea in the new nation? Basically, WHY were people converted in this period? What kind of events and experiences drove them to this?


14. Who were the Shakers and what did they want?


15. Who were the Mormons and what did they want?


16. How did conservatives and traditional-minded people react to the new religious upsurge of these years?


17. How did all these events affect the role of clergy in the various Christian churches and sects?


18. In what sense was the revolution justified by religious ideas? Just for reference, I offer the beginnings of the Declaration of Independence - what sort of religious notions are dealt with here? Are they Christian? If not, what are they?


"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."


Put another way (just to sound mysterious) why does the Great Seal show a pyramid with an eye staring out from it?!



**On October 4, we will discuss issues of race and slavery as they affect the story of Christianity in America. For this class, I will want you to read the following sections of Allitt: pages 138-144 AND 152-159