Introducing American Religion
– the eBook

Introducing American Religion Online:
Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Chapter One
    1. Compare and contrast Native American and African tribal religious expression. What was it about the nature of tribal religion that left Europeans unable to recognize its integrity?
    2. How did changes in the religious complexion of European Christianity at the time when imperial expansion and colonial settlement began affect religious patterns in North America?
    3. In what ways did European Christians' engagement with Judaism and Islam, even in their hostility towards those traditions, contribute to a slowly emerging acceptance of diversity?
  2. Chapter Two
    1. Compare and contrast Spanish and French efforts to bring Roman Catholicism to North America. Why did their approaches differ?
    2. Most of the English colonies opted for some form of religious establishment, as was the case in Britain, yet undercurrents of diversity prevailed--perhaps more so in early colonial New England than in Virginia (despite Puritan efforts at conformity). What was it about colonial religious culture that let diversity flourish?
  3. Chapter Three
    1. In many respects, the religious patterns that developed in the middle colonies foreshadowed the wide-ranging pluralism that has come to mark American life. How and why did the middle colonies take a different course than other English colonies?
    2. Settlers who came to the English colonies were overwhelmingly drawn to strains of Protestantism, yet both Roman Catholicism and Judaism made a place for themselves early on. How were their stories similar? How were they different? What does each tell us about how religious groups survive in a social environment in which they are distinct minorities and often consigned to the margins of the larger culture?
    3. Colonial evangelicalism (with its emphasis on experience or "the heart") and the Enlightenment (with its emphasis on reason or "the mind") at first seem almost polar opposites. Yet both contributed to the growing diversity in British North America. What did each contribute? Why?
  4. Chapter Four
    1. Religion was among the constellation of forces that fed into the moves for the English colonies that became the United States to seek independence from Britain, but at the same time the struggle for independence profoundly transformed American religious life. How did religion play into the effort and indeed the war that created the United States? In what ways did the Revolution change religious culture in the U.S.?
    2. In one sense the U.S. Constitution set up a government that was secular in that there was no established religion. Yet religion and government remained intertwined. Why did leaders of the new nation decide not to have an established religion? How did the legal apparatus created by the Constitution, especially the First Amendment, help promote religious diversity? How did a civil religion develop? How did religion and the political order remain connected, even if they were legally distinct?
  5. Chapter Five
    1. How and why were aspects of African tribal religious expression able to endure despite the ravages of slavery? How did the American context and the fact of slavery transform African American religion? In what ways did African American religious life in turn influence and change the religion of white Americans, especially those who were involved with slavery?
    2. Compare and contrast the interplay of white and African religion in America with the ways in which Native American religious culture interacted with the religious culture of Euro-Americans.
    3. How did American independence affect both African American and Native American religious life? How was this influence similar to, yet different from the way independence affected the religious culture of European settlers and citizens?
  6. Chapter Six
    1. How did geographical expansion of the new American nation impact religious life? In what ways did the evangelical style that emerged in the camp meetings and urban revivals of the early nineteenth century echo the evangelicalism of the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century? How did it differ from earlier forms of evangelicalism? Why did it become so prominent within American Protestantism in the first half of the nineteenth century?
    2. Discuss how religious currents interacted with public life in the first half of the nineteenth century, particularly in terms of efforts to reform society and/or fashion the social order according to evangelical principles. From this interplay, what can be said about how religion and society are mutually engaged with each other?
  7. Chapter Seven
    1. What is it about American culture and the character of American religion that has led to such wide-ranging experimentation, yielding groups as diverse as those concerned with the Restoration of New Testament Christianity, the Latter-day Saints, and Christian Science?
    2. Think about the fascination with millennial expectation in nineteenth century America. What produced and sustained the hope that the Second Coming was about to occur? Where in contemporary life do you find currents of millennialism still at work?
    3. Today Americans participate in a host of "self-help" groups, from Weight Watchers to Alcoholics Anonymous. How are their roots in some of the religious currents oriented to mental power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
  8. Chapter Eight
    1. Compare and contrast the experience of Roman Catholicism and Judaism in nineteenth century America as religions of immigrants, as demonstrating the ongoing ties between ethnicity and religion, as illustrating ways to adapt to an alien religious and social environment, and in responding to criticism and prejudice.
    2. If the United States was already a bastion of religious diversity when the ranks of Roman Catholics and Jews began to increase, why do you think that there was such strident anti-Catholicism and antisemitism in American religious and public life?
  9. Chapter Nine
    1. In what sense could the Civil War be construed as a religious event? What impact did it have on religious notions of the nation? Think here about ties to the discussion earlier about civil religion. Did a distinctive Southern civil religion emerge in part as a result of the war?
    2. The American Civil War usually pits two regions--north and south--against each other. Yet the idea of region is much broader, including, for example, Appalachia as a distinct region, the Great Plains as a distinct region, and so on. How in the nineteenth century did region become increasingly important in shaping religious life and in promoting diversity? Based on this appreciation for region, what would you say are the links between geography and religion more generally?
  10. Chapter Ten
    1. How did the massive immigration between the end of the Civil War and the outbreak of World War I, the rapid growth of cities, and the increasing industrialization of the American nation bring about new social problems emerged that religious groups tried to address? Compare and contrast their response to these issues with the earlier links between religion and social reform discussed in Chapter Six.
    2. In what ways did the interplay of immigration, urbanization, and industrialization also transformed the texture of American religion? How did it affect minority religions as well as the religious life of ethnic minorities, especially African Americans? What were its consequences for gender and the role of women in American religious culture?
  11. Chapter Eleven
    1. How did the US in the postbellum period gradually become more globally aware and more engaged in other cultures? What consequences did this increasing international focus have for religion? How did it alter the face of religious diversity in America? How did all of these forces affect gender as a factor in religious life?
    2. In the years after the Civil War, revivalism continued to be a prominent feature of American Protestant life especially. How did later revivalism and the evangelicalism that sustained it have continuities with, for example, the camp meetings of the early nineteenth century and the style of evangelicalism that emerged with "new measures" revivalism? How did they differ? You may want to look back at Chapter Six as you consider these questions.
  12. Chapter Twelve
    1. How was fundamentalism linked to earlier expressions of evangelicalism? In what ways was it really very "modern" even while "modernism" became a term for what it opposed? Think of American religious culture in the early twenty-first century. Are Americans still wrestling with some of the issues that gave shape to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy?
    2. In the midst of an urbanizing America grappling with everything from immigration to fundamentalism, Pentecostalism emerged as a key force in American religion. How would you explain its rise? Why did many relegate it to the margins at one time? How is the Pentecostalism of the early twenty-first century similar to and different from the Pentecostalism of the early twentieth century?
  13. Chapter Thirteen
    1. Reflect on American life in the 1920s. How and why did women become more engage in public life? How did efforts at social reform characterized by the Prohibition movement echo antebellum endeavors and the Social Gospel? How did these newer moves differ from earlier ones to create an ideal society?
    2. In the 1920s, the increasing religious diversity in American life joined with other currents to suggest to some that "traditional values" and the foundation of American culture were under attack. What different ways did people respond to those perceived threats? How did religion play into the larger story? What similarities and differences do you see in the anti-Catholicism and antisemitism of that period, along with the racial and religious prejudice stirred by the Ku Klux Klan, with earlier movements that also targeted particular religions or ethnic communities?
    3. In the early twenty-first century, the World-Wide Web and space travel have collapsed distances and made instant communications the norm. In the 1920s, radio and film along with the automobile had created a similar sense. How did new technology affect religious life in the decades just before World War II?
  14. Chapter Fourteen
    1. The era of the Great Depression and then World War II undergirded a need to downplay diversity and stress what Americans had in common. How did that play out in the religious realm? In what ways were efforts to stress common beliefs and values merely a mask that covered continuing, if not growing, diversity?
    2. By the 1960s, the U.S. was in the midst of extraordinary social change as the civil rights movement transformed every aspect of American culture. What impact did the civil rights movement have on American religious life? In turn, what impact did American religion have on the civil rights movement? How did a similar dynamic work in cognate movements that challenged traditional authority and the status quo, movements such as second-wave feminism and the gay rights movement? How does the influence of this epoch remain a part of American religious life in the early twenty-first century?
  15. Chapter Fifteen
    1. There has never been a time in American life when "new religious movements" were not appearing. Yet the 1960s and 1970s seems to mark a period when such activity was more prevalent than usual. Compare and contrast this period, and the response to new religious movements that emerged, with antebellum America, particularly religious life on the frontier and in the "burned-over district." Are there sets of social conditions that seem to allow for greater religious experimentation in some periods rather than in others? You may want to review Chapter Seven as you think about these issues.
    2. From the mid-twentieth century on, courts have wrestled more and more with issues related to religious diversity. What particular issues have come before the courts? How and why did courts come to address these issues more directly? Why is it that some critics believe that legal efforts to avoid even a hint of favoritism on the part of government as well as to assure free exercise of religion have led to an assault on the idea of "the majority rules" in matters of religion?
    3. Since the 1960s, more and more Americans have described themselves as being "spiritual, but not religious." What do you think they mean by that term? How does it reflect yet another way in which religious diversity and an abiding pluralism have become central to American religion and culture? How does this idea also echo some of the challenges to traditional authority discussed in Chapter Fourteen?
  16. Chapter Sixteen
    1. What new faces of diversity have appeared in American religious life since the 1970s? What have they added to American culture and society? Although some analysts believe that this "new pluralism" is undermining the religious core of American life, others believe it a positive development. How would you make a case for both positions?
    2. Alongside this new pluralism has come a remarkable resurgence of evangelical and Pentecostal religious expression. How would you account for that reawakening? Does it also signify that traditional religion is losing ground in American life?

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