SOC 321K • Religion and the Quality of American Life
5:00 PM-6:30 PM
This course has two overarching objectives: (1) to explore the impact of religious institutions, practices, and values on contemporary American life; and (2) to provide an opportunity for students to hone their social science writing skills. This course contains a significant writing component.
After briefly reviewing key features and emerging characteristics of the US religious scene, the first major segment of course materials will examine a range of possible religious and spiritual influences on the health and happiness of Americans. Next we will investigate the impact of religion on contemporary family life, with particular attention to marital relationships, gender roles, fertility, and childrearing. Then we will explore the possible role of religion in reducing crime, delinquency, and recidivism, and other issues bearing on the criminal justice system. Finally, we will investigate the links between religion and various types of prosocial orientations, and the motivating role of faith commitments in social movements and political activism.
Although we will touch on a wide range of topics and issues during the semester, we will give particular emphasis to four major themes: (1) the dynamic character of American religious life, including the growing diversity of institutions, practices, and beliefs; (2) the complex, multidimensional character of religious involvement among Americans; (3) the value of bringing empirical data to bear upon questions and debates concerning the role of religion, and the challenges involved in doing so; and (4) the potential for religion to play both "positive" and "negative" roles in the individual and collective lives of Americans.
Many of the issues dealt with in this course are emotional and controversial--more so than in some other courses. Each class member brings a distinctive outlook and a unique set of personal experiences to the course. These differences of opinion, belief, and background are natural, and airing them in an appropriate way can be extremely valuable for everyone. In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, students are encouraged to assume that other class members are persons of integrity and good will.
Comprehensive final exam (consists of mainly of essay questions, although there will be some "objective" items as well 30%
Library-based research paper of approximately 12-15 pages (30% --5% prospectus, 25% product)
Field research paper of similar length (30% --5% prospectus, 25% product)
Class participation 10%
The first paper will focus on some aspect of religion and contemporary American society, and should be based primarily on library (i.e., secondary) sources.
The second paper assignment will provide students with an opportunity to explore the role of religion (focusing on the same topic, or any other relevant issue) "closer to home" --on campus, or in Austin or the surrounding area. Although some library or other secondary sources will also play a role in this paper, the goal is to supplement such materials with new data collection.
Most readings will be included in a packet, which will be available for purchase from Paradigm, on 24th near Guadalupe (472-7986). On occasion, there will be additional readings and other materials, which will be made available via Blackboard. Specifics will be announced in class. In addition, there will be occasional visitors and/or videos, which will also be announced in class in advance.