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Church and State in American History

Somewhere, in the overlapping space between religion and the state, Americans have sought to define their nation. But in that seemingly narrow overlap, they have imagined nearly infinite national identities and visions. How have Americans used religion to define national belonging, nation to define religious membership, and how have churchly and national polities given shape to each other? As we explore these questions, we’ll consider several key moments in American history that can shed light on the relationship between religion and the state. In particular, we’ll consider several questions. First, how have Americans understood religious liberty (or lack thereof) to serve the purposes of their society and nation? Second, how has religion intersected with politics during some of the fiercest debates of American history? Third, how has religious belief given rise to various political coalitions? And finally, how have Americans linked spiritual and national identity in different ways? By investigating these questions, perhaps we will come to a better understanding of what it has meant to be religious (or not) and American.


This syllabus was created for the Young Scholars in American Religion program.

Shelby M. Balik

Metropolitan State University of Denver

Public College or University
Institution Type

Resource Type

Undergraduate Course
Class Type

Date Published

Religious Studies, American Studies, History

General Comparative Traditions
Religous Tradition

Politics/Law/Government, Pluralism/Secularism/Culture Wars

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