Religion in the Public Square

Instructor: Ted Vial

Course Synopsis:

“All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development . . . but also because of their systemic structure . . . .” Many scholars in different fields have come to agree with this famous analysis of Carl Schmitt’s. The secular isn’t secular, but is a particular iteration of certain religious trajectories. This is true not just of theories of the state, but of the public sphere in general. As Talal Asad has argued, the public sphere is not a neutral space. As always, religion is imbricated with practices of and strategies to manage race, sex, and gender. This course analyzes the way religious histories and narratives shape the contemporary American public sphere.

Course Overview


Course Objectives

Required Texts:

Willie James Jennings, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging (Eerdmans, 2020).

Janet Jakobsen, The Sex Obsession: Perversion and Possibility in American Politics (New York University, 2020).

Hans Joas, The Sacredness of the Person: A New Genealogy of Human Rights (Georgetown, 2013).

Jonathan Kahn and Vincent Lloyd, eds., Race and Secularism in America (Columbia, 2016)

For Ph.D. students:

David Newheiser, Hope in a Secular Age: Deconstruction, Negative Theology, and the Future of Faith (Cambridge, 2019). This book is pricey—Iliff’s library is purchasing an e-version you will be able to access.

Course Requirements:

  1. Class participation (quality and quantity) counts for 20% of your grade. Participation includes discussion posts to weekly Canvas discussions (at least 2 per week), annotation assignments, and participation in synchronous Zoom meetings. Our mandatory Zoom times are April 1, 22, and May 13 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. MDT (Denver time).
  2. Papers. Students will write 3 3-page papers on the readings.  Instructions for these papers can be found at the end of the syllabus.  Each paper is worth 20% of your grade (60% total).
  3. Artifacts. Twice during the quarter students will post artifacts—images, video clips, links, etc. With a 1-2 sentence explanation of how it ties to that week’s reading—to the Canvas discussion page. 20% of final grade.
  4. Ph.D. students will work out a final project with the instructor.

Throughout the quarter, we will have several discussions which will compose a large part of our engagement with each other in this online learning space. For these discussions to be meaningful conversation spaces, we all need to take responsibility for consistent and substantial participation. Over the course of a conversation, substantial engagement means:

  1. Extend the conversation - creatively and critically push the conversation forward, do not just regurgitate what has already been said. If 1 or 2 other students have already responded directly to a point raised in a student paper, do not simply write another response to that point unless it adds something new to the conversation. You need to extend the conversation by adding an additional or different insight from the course materials, by asking a new question that stems from one of the posts already offered, by offering a related and contextualized example of the issue being discussed from your own experience, or by creatively integrating your own perspective with what has already been posted. 
  2. Ask contextualized questions - situate your questions within the discussion by referencing the course materials and other parts of the conversation thread that inform your inquiry. Give us a little background as to why this question matters to you and how it relates to the course.
  3. Engage others in the course - thoughtful engagement with other students in the course and with the instructional team. 
  4. Engage the course materials - thoughtful engagement with readings, lectures, student presentations, and any other materials related to the course. Referencing and citing course materials in your posts where appropriate is encouraged. 
  5. Participate Respectfully - discussions in this course are likely to raise sensitive topics. Please strive for respect in all your comments, and charity in reading the comments of others.

Each post need not do all of these things, but your overall participation in each conversation should demonstrate all of these components. You might have several short posts and a handful of longer posts in a week or you might have only a few strategic substantial posts (minimum of 2 posts per discussion). Either way, your overall participation in each conversation will be evaluated for substantial engagement. The goal of this discussion design is to encourage and reward interchange, so post often and engage each other with meaningful questions that open to other questions.

We are looking for posts that help us understand and analyze the text at hand. Application of our texts to new situations is of course the ultimate goal, but we can't do that responsibly without understanding what the author is doing first. And that can be hard!

If your first post (due Wednesday) focuses on one of the assigned papers/readings, please focus your second post (due Friday) on a discussion about another paper/reading.

Each student will prepare 3 papers of 3 double-spaced pages each. 

Post Papers

On a week you have signed up to write, you will submit your paper by Monday night on canvas.

Evaluating Papers 

Papers will be graded according to the following 4 criteria:

  1. A clearly stated claim;
  2. Textual evidence to support the claim;
  3. Quality of writing (organization, proper use of sentences and paragraphs, grammar, spelling, and all other mechanics);
  4. Depth and seriousness of analysis. 

In a short paper the claim typically appears as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph (if it is not there the writer needs clearly to mark where it is, since otherwise readers will assume that sentence is the claim).  A claim states the conclusion of the argument put forward in the paper.  You have a great deal of freedom here.  A claim might state what is the most important idea in the reading, or what the author must assume to make his or her argument, or what the logical extension of that argument might be, or how that argument relates to other readings on our syllabus, or what the author gets right or wrong, etc.   In a short paper you will likely not be able to summarize the all the points the author makes, nor should you try.  Part of your task of analysis is to prioritize what is most important to lift up for discussion for our class.  Your paper will likely not follow the same organization as the reading under analysis, since the logic of your argument will not be the same as the logic of the argument of the reading.  If your paragraphs tend to begin “And then . . .;  Next . . .” then it is probably time to go back and do at least one more draft and re-think what you are presenting and how.  Papers for this class are a little closer to the summary end of the spectrum than a term paper might be, since they are the basis for our discussion.  But they are still papers that make engage the text by making a point about the text.

The purpose of the papers is three-fold:

  1. the first is to encourage deep engagement with the texts;
  2. the second is to encourage a habit of discussion that is open, respectful, and rigorous.  This is best accomplished when the analytical essays take a charitable stance towards the readings.  Some of them will seem old-fashioned, and the writers may have different concerns than do we.  As in any good conversation, it is important first to try to see where the writer is coming from, rather than to be dismissive of his, her or their ideas.  There will be plenty of time later to decide what is useful to you and what is not.   We must begin with an accurate understanding of what is actually going on in the essay. 
  3. Third, these section papers will help develop your skills as readers and writers.  A great number of studies show that “peer-review” is a very effective way to teach writing.  The feedback you get on these papers during discussion will be quite valuable.

Papers will be graded on the following scale:

4 = A
3 = B
2 = C
1 = D
0 = F

Mar 24, 2021WedIntrosdue by 05:59AM
Mar 25, 2021ThuSign up for artifactsdue by 05:59AM
Mar 25, 2021ThuGroup Annotation: Syllabusdue by 05:59AM
Mar 25, 2021ThuWeek 1 Papersdue by 05:59AM
Mar 25, 2021ThuWeek 1 Discussiondue by 05:59AM
Mar 25, 2021ThuSign up for papersdue by 05:59AM
Mar 27, 2021SatWeek 1 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Mar 30, 2021TueWeek 2 Papersdue by 05:59AM
Apr 01, 2021ThuWeek 2 Discussiondue by 05:59AM
Apr 03, 2021SatWeek 2 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Apr 06, 2021TueWeek 3 Papersdue by 05:59AM
Apr 08, 2021ThuWeek 3 Discussiondue by 05:59AM
Apr 08, 2021ThuZoom Discussiondue by 10:00PM
Apr 10, 2021SatWeek 3 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Apr 13, 2021TueWeek 4 Papersdue by 05:59AM
Apr 15, 2021ThuWeek 4 Discussiondue by 05:59AM
Apr 17, 2021SatWeek 4 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Apr 20, 2021TueWeek 5 Papersdue by 05:59AM
Apr 22, 2021ThuWeek 5 Discussiondue by 05:59AM
Apr 22, 2021ThuZoom Discussiondue by 10:00PM
Apr 24, 2021SatWeek 5 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Apr 27, 2021TueWeek 6 Papersdue by 05:59AM
Apr 29, 2021ThuWeek 6 Discussiondue by 05:59AM
May 01, 2021SatWeek 6 Discussion Continueddue by 05:59AM
May 04, 2021TueWeek 7 Papersdue by 05:59AM
May 06, 2021ThuWeek 7 Discussiondue by 05:59AM
May 08, 2021SatWeek 7 Continueddue by 05:59AM
May 11, 2021TueWeek 8 Papersdue by 05:59AM
May 13, 2021ThuWeek 8 Discussiondue by 05:59AM
May 13, 2021ThuZoom Discussiondue by 10:00PM
May 14, 2021FriGroup Annotation: Week 8due by 05:59AM
May 15, 2021SatWeek 8 Continueddue by 05:59AM
May 18, 2021TueWeek 9 Papersdue by 05:59AM
May 20, 2021ThuWeek 9 Discussiondue by 05:59AM
May 22, 2021SatWeek 9 Continueddue by 05:59AM
May 25, 2021TueWeek 10 papersdue by 05:59AM
May 27, 2021ThuWeek 10 Discussiondue by 05:59AM
May 29, 2021SatWeek 10 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Jun 01, 2021TueArtifactsdue by 05:59AM
Jun 01, 2021TueParticipationdue by 05:59AM
Jun 05, 2021Satannotationsdue by 05:59AM
Jun 12, 2021SatPlace to post slides of lecturesdue by 05:59AM