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Religion and Humanitarianism in America

This class will look at the history of modern humanitarianism—an activity that is now a multimillion dollar industry and that the U.S. funds more than any other country in the world—and its origins in charity, philanthropy, and missions. By interspersing case studies of humanitarian endeavors with theoretical investigations into the nature of such work, we will explore the evolving relationships between private religious humanitarian groups and more public actors, forces, and institutions such as nation-states, international law, and the market. Our goals will be to dig past the fiction that humanitarianism is ever impartial (a seemingly necessary fiction that allows many institutions to do their work in conflict areas) to uncover the political dynamics of various humanitarian endeavors. In so doing, we will seek to understand how such work and the narratives we tell about it shapes our notions of the proper roles of religious groups and government, as well as how religious groups represent (and contest) U.S. power in the world.


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

Rosemary R. Corbett

Bard College

Private College or University
Institution Type

Resource Type

Undergraduate Course, Seminar
Class Type

Date Published

Religious Studies

General Comparative Traditions
Religous Tradition

Business/Capitalism/Labor, Class/Power, Politics/Law/Government

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