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Religion, Politics, and the FBI

This seminar examines the relationship between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and religion (i.e. faith communities, clerics, and religious professionals) as a way to study
and understand twentieth century religion and politics. The course will investigate the history of the FBI, as well as the various ways in which the FBI and religious groups have
interacted. We will address several questions, including: What are the origins of the FBI? Did religion play a role in shaping the formation of the FBI? How have such origins shaped the FBI and public perceptions of the same? How, if at all, has the FBI shaped religion in America? How and why did the FBI spy on religious groups? Why did some religious groups fight the
FBI while others chose to cooperate and coordinate with the FBI? How did race, class, gender, and/or the theological composition of religious groups/persons contribute to such
variance? In what ways, if any, did FBI surveillance and counter-intelligence shape religious and political activity? Closely related, how, if at all, did FBI partnerships with cooperating and coordinating ministers, faith communities, and consultative religious professionals influence religious and political activity? Did the FBI’s engagement of religion alter public, cultural, political, and governmental perceptions and opportunities of religious communities and persons? And finally, what does the history of the FBI and religion tells us about religion and politics in America?


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

Lerone A. Martin

Washington University in St. Louis

Private College or University
Institution Type

Resource Type

Undergraduate Course, Seminar
Class Type

Date Published

Religious Studies, American Studies, Political Science

General Comparative Traditions
Religous Tradition

Class/Power, Politics/Law/Government, Race/Ethnicity, Nationalism/War/Civil Religion

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