AP/HIST3650 3.0 M: God/USA: Religion in America Since 1491

Offered by: HIST

(Cross-listed to: AP/HUMA3650 3.0M , AP/JWST3651 3.0M , AP/RLST3651 3.0M )


Winter 2025






Calendar Description / Prerequisite / Co-Requisite

Explores the key themes, critical questions, and entrenched conflicts about the place of religion during the long and varied history of American civic and cultural life. It analyzes Native-Newcomer religious tensions, disestablishment, uniquely American religions, and the intersections of religion with war, nationalism, immigration, race, science, expansion, urbanization, gender, counterculture, and new media.

Course Start Up

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For further course Start Up details, review the Getting Started webpage.

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    Additional Course Instructor/Contact Details


    Expanded Course Description

America’s indigenous traditions, its imports, its inventions and interpretations, even its insistence upon irreligion, are all peculiar to the history of religion.  What profound and subtle influences has religion made on American life?  Has America always been awash in a sea of faith?  This course, though far from comprehensive, will begin to answer these questions by exploring key themes, critical questions, and entrenched conflicts about religion during the long and varied terrain of American history. We begin by setting two primary grounds: the clash of worlds when Europeans encountered Indigenous peoples on the shores of the New World; and the revolutionary idea that religion and statecraft might be separated.  The bulk of the course will then focus on religion in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will shuttle back and forth between broad issues and living details.  We will see religion as a multi-faceted thing and we will see it from a variety of angles: across geographies, as it intersects with class, race and gender, as it impacts and is impacted by immigration, war, westward expansion, urbanization, and the advances in science, social thought and popular culture.  At the end of our exploration, we will touch on new religious phenomena: the post 1960s re-enchantment of the world, the rise of the religious right, and the intersection of religion and new media.

    Required Course Text / Readings


  1. Peter Williams, American’s Religions: From Their Origins to the Twenty-first Century. Third Edition. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.
  2. Selected journal articles, book chapters, and public writing, all freely available online or via York’s Library.
  3. Selected primary sources, all freely available online or via York’s Library.


Jon Butler, “Religion and Missions in New Spain and New France.”

Mark Noll, “The American Revolution and the Religious History of the United States”

Albert Raboteau, “Religious Life in the Slave Community”

Roger Finke, “The Illusion of Shifting Demand: Supply-Side Interpretations of American Religious History”

Jay Dolan “The Immigrants and Their Gods: A New Perspective in American Religious History”

Robert Handy “The Christian Conquest of the World, 1890-1920,”

Philip Gleason, “Pluralism, Democracy and Catholicism in the Era of WWII”

D. Halton, “Faith & Politics: The Rise of the Religious Right and Its Impact on American Domestic & Foreign Policy”

Jeremy Stolow, “Religion and/as Media

    Weighting of Course

*TENTATIVE Grade Breakdown*

Reading & Lecture Responses x4                                       4 x 8% = 24%

Simple Mid-Term Content Test (in class, in person)                      25%

Primary Source Assignment                                                                15%

Broad Issue Essay                                                                                   20%

Class Participation                                                                                 16%

    Organization of the Course

The course content is organized chronologically, beginning with a short introduction to the religions of pre-contact Indigenous nations and an examination of the religion-based clashes that ensued with European colonists’ arrival in the so-called New World. The course then surveys many of the major events, themes, and dynamics in the unfolding story of American religion, up to – but necessarily thin on – the present.

    Course Learning Objectives

We will engage several different aspects of our capacities to learn: we will read, write, analyze, discuss, watch, and listen. Most importantly, we will question.  You will be given several opportunities to formulate engaging and serious analytic questions (both academic ones and personal ones), and your grade for the course will rely, in part, on your ability to pose good questions.  You will be asked to check your preconceptions and any intellectual or spiritual prejudices you may have at the door. It will be a semester devoted to curiosity and imagination, not to judgment or mission. Your intellect is expected; I hope your whole person will be engaged. 

The course is a mix of lecture material, discussion, and “workshopping” to unpack the readings and move through primary material, including film excerpts, music videos, songs, sermons, ephemera, photos, newspapers, etc.  

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the course, students should have:

  • Learned or improved the skills of a historian so as to:
  • Find and analyze primary sources to “make” history
  • Gain fluency engaging with secondary scholarly literature
  • Write scholarly arguments that are relevant and well supported
  • Acquired knowledge and insight about the history of religion in American life so as to:
  • Be able to intelligently assimilate new facts / perspectives about American religion when then come up in your life in the future
  • Be able to apply your knowledge about American religion to the experiences – similarities and differences – with other aspects of American history, and/or other nation’s religious histories.

Have a clear sense of the broad arch of American religious history, and a handful of particular, unique and real life details.

    Additional Information / Notes

See the course syllabus, the eClass site, and/or be in touch with Professor David Koffman for more information.

    Relevant Links / Resources