In my Religion in America class we will begin by asking: "what is the interpretive key to understanding American history?" This is related to, but not the same as, the larger question "what is the interpretive key to history in general," or, "what is history about?" We are looking at the particulars of American religious history within the context of that larger question.
First we will consider and refute the claim that there is no interpretive key but instead history is a meaningless series of accidental events and any attempt to find meaning is an illusion of the human mind which is itself an accidental collection of atoms. Part of the argument against this is simply to consider how such claims are self-refuting.
Next we will look at a number of popular interpretations of American history. Among these are those that say: American history is about the march of democracy, or the increase of personal freedom, or the more "just" distribution of wealth, or republicanism and meritocracy against aristocracy and monarchy, or the rise and victory of secularism.
This last one gets us to the question of religion in America. We will try to define "religion" which is necessary both to study religion in America and to contrast it with other things like "secularism." Obviously religion cannot be defined as belief in God, attending church, accepting scriptures, following rituals or a moral system, since not all religions have these features and some things that are not religions have some of these features. So what is "religion"?
In answering both of these questions it will be helpful to study the claim: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Sunday, August 24, 2014
In my Western Religious Traditions class this semester (Fall 2014) we will begin by studying what is called "natural religion." Natural religion is the study of what all persons can know about the most basic questions that can be asked. These questions include: "how do I know?", "what is real?", and "what is good?" One of the best examples of this can be found in Plato's Apology which gives the dialogue of Socrates during his trial in which he is accused of corrupting the youth of Athens by teaching other gods than the city recognizes. This will be one of our first readings and can be found here.