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Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Fall 2004

AMS 315 • Popular Religion in Twentieth-Century America-W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
27806 to 27807 Multiple Sections

Course Description

A website for this course can be found at: This course will survey the varieties and complexity of popular religion in twentieth-century America. The study of popular religion forces us to confront many of the central concerns of twentieth-century American life: psychology, self-help, and therapeutic culture; consumerism; race and ethnicity; gender and sexuality; apocalypticism; pluralism and syncretism; and the interplay of the public and the private. In order to study our subject, we will read and discuss in class a variety of popular religious books published in the twentieth century, as well as selected secondary sources and a number of shorter documents. We will also read one novel. We will examine the assigned primary texts as cultural historians, always asking: what does this particular work tell us about the culture in which it was produced and about the people who read it? Why did so many people turn to this text for inspiration, meaning, or spiritual or intellectual challenge?

Although popular religion often crosses official boundaries, the texts used in this class come for the most part from readily recognizable religious traditions, including conservative and liberal Protestantism, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and a variety of forms of African-American and Native American religion. However, toward the end of the semester we will move beyond even this rather inclusive examination of established religious traditions and attempt to come to terms with New Age religion and the intersection of religion and popular culture, two very important but highly eclectic phenomena. This should serve as a useful summary of many of the themes of the course, for New Age and popular culture both borrow heavily from the traditions represented by the sources we will have examined earlier in the course. The course will consist of lots of in-class discussion, punctuated with occasional lectures.

Grading Policy

Short papers: 15%. Topic proposal: 5%. Rough draft: 5%. Final paper: 35%. Participation: 10%. First exam: 15%. Second exam: 15%. I will assign grades using the following scale: 90-100 = A; 80-89 = B; 70-79 = C; 60-69 = D; below 60 = F. Since assigning a number to a piece of writing is an inherently subjective enterprise, I grade incrementally, giving grades at the following intervals only: 100, 98, 95, 92, 90, 88, 85, etc. See the Grading Rubric handout on the website for more details on my grading policy.


Cahan, Abraham, Yekl and the Imported Bridegroom and Other Tales of Jewish New York (1979/1896) Dass, Baba Ram, Be Here Now (1971) Lindsey, Hal, The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) Norris, Kathleen, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (1993) Wuthnow, Robert, After Heaven: American Spirituality since the 1950s (May 2000) X, Malcolm, Autobiography of Malcolm X Reissue edition (December 1989) COURSE PACKET – mostly primary sources, drawn largely from the following: Albanese, Catherine, ed., American Spiritualities: A Reader (2001) McDannel, Collen, ed., Religions of the United States in Practice, Volume 2 (2001) Fulop, Timothy E., and Albert J. Raboteau, eds., African-American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture (1997)


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