HIS 365G • UNBELIEF IN AMERICA
10:00 AM-11:00 AM
This relatively new lecture course will investigate the development of a tradition of Unbelief---rationalism, skepticism, agnosticism and atheismin American culture. We will begin by investigating the emergence of unbelief in the ancient world and then in Christian Europe through the Enlightenment. We will then look at the transfer of that culture of unbelief 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 in America, especially among the Founders of the American Republic. We will then follow the development of that tradition in more detail through the nineteen and the 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 journalists of the 1920s and 1930s; and Austin's own Madalyn Murray O-Hair, the founder of organized atheism in the U.S. Finally we will study the recent emergence of the "new Atheism," a fully blown public defense of out and out atheism, surely one of the most astounding developments of the Jesus-focused presidency of George W. Bush. In addition to extensive readings in the intellectual sources of American atheism, we will also pay attention to the role that humorespecially essayists, stand-up comics and filmmakershas played in the development of unbelief in America. The course will be primarily lecture in format, especially in the first part of the course. Later in the course, we will endeavor to have as much class discussion as the size the class allows.
There will be two one-hour examinations that cover both lectures and reading. The exams will be essay in format. Each of the hour examinations will constitute 25% of the course grade. A three-hour comprehensive final examination, to be given at the regularly scheduled time in the final exam schedule, will constitute the remaining half of the course grade.
Susan Jacoby, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism Forrest Church, ed., The Jefferson Bible Tim Page, ed., What's God Got To Do With It? Robert Ingersoll on Free Thought, Honest Talk & the Separation of Church and State Bertrand Russell, "Why I am Not a Christian" and Other Essays on Religion and Other Related Subjects. Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation And selected shorter readings as assigned Recommended Further Reading: James Turner, Without God, Without Creed: The Origin Of Unbelief in America