HIS 350L • Unbelief in America-W
This new course will study the "other side" of religion in America, the development of a tradition of unbelief--rationalism, skepticism, agnosticism, atheism--that has been present throughout the history of one of the nation that has often defined itself in terms of religious belief and practice. We will begin by investigating the persistence of skepticism and out right atheism in early modern Europe. We will then look at the transfer of that culture to the British colonies in America, often in the form of occult traditions. That will be followed by an investigation of the Enlightenment in America and the emergence of the first defenses of skeptical, rational belief and the articulation of the first statements of atheism in America. We will then follow the development of that tradition in more detail through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, paying special attention to the careers of Robert Greene Ingersoll, the most important proponent of unbelief in late nineteenth century America; H.L. Mencken, the sharp-tongued journalist of the 1920s and 1930s; and, finally, in our own time, Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
Fully one half of the final course grade will be determined by class attendance and by consistent and effective contributions to class discussion. Because the seminar fulfills the requirement for a Substantial Writing Component Course, the other half of the final grade will be determined by a sixteen-page paper. Students will prepare a brief prospectus of the paper, an extended prospectus, a first draft and a substantially revised final draft of the paper.
Readings will be selected from among the following and other works: Martin Marty, The Infidel Susan Jacoby, Free Thinkers James Turner, Withod God, Without Creed