SOC 321K • Making of American Christianity
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Americans know comparatively little about the historic Christian tradition, including the development of their distinctly western form of Christianity. This course is about the intellectual and social origins of contemporary Christianity in the United States. Much is made of the idea that the United States is unique among Western nations in its ability to resist the secularization that characterizes the European countries from which the faith was largely imported. While debates continue over the nature of secularization and how it is or is not occurring in America, it is evident that this nation exhibits a style of Christian practice and theological thought that is distinctive. This course aims to understand how this has come to be both intellectually and socially, and how it is sustained and underwritten. Intellectually, we will evaluate how Christianity as an early sect diverged from its Jewish roots in Hebrew monotheism, the extent of Greek influence on contemporary Christian thought, the issues and legacy of the Protestant Reformation, the success and failures of Calvinism, and the role of American mentalities in shaping Christian expression. Socially, we will reflect on the role of immigration settlement patterns, ethnic distinctions and conflict, and market economy values that continue to shape the Christian Church today in its organizational characteristics, theological thought, and growth patterns. Finally, we will explore how these intellectual and social phenomena gave rise to several contemporary debates within the American Church over the past century, including the emergence of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, the Social Gospel movement, the nature of the biblical canon, ideas about the atonement, "new" perspectives on reading Jesus and Paul in their Jewish context, the Jesus Seminar, diminishing popular biblical literacy, and contemporary patterns of secularization and religious affiliation.