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Ecstasy, Utopia, and Healing: Religious Experiments and American Moral Worlds

This course approaches American religions through historical study of the pursuit of ecstatic, utopian, and healing experiences. We will seek to understand America’s religious past by investigating specific contexts in which Americans have sought radical release from everyday consciousness, social disorder, and pain. These pursuits, while distinct from one another in crucial ways, share an intense uneasiness with life as it is and an equally intense hopefulness in a particular solution. Sometimes people explicitly theorized these pursuits, but often they simply lived them as extensions of practical knowledge. In all cases we will explore the reasons for their hope as well as their responses to its triumph and its all-too-frequent failure. Whether successful or not, those driving these endeavors remained (sometimes despite their desires) permeated by and influential upon the worlds around them. Accordingly, we will explore the ways their hopes and desires—while often expressed with unique assertiveness and addressed with solutions considered radical—linked them with the wider communities from which they emerged.


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

John C. Seitz

Fordham University

Private College or University
Institution Type

Resource Type

Undergraduate Course
Class Type

Date Published

Religious Studies, History

Catholic, General Comparative Traditions, Indigenous, New Religious Movements, Protestant
Religous Tradition

Gender/Women/ Sexuality, He​alth/Death, Pluralism/Secularism/Culture Wars, Race/Ethnicity

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