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Varieties of Secularism in American History

This course will entertain the ironic possibility that secularism possesses a religious history of its own. This course will also interrogate the commonplace definition of secularism as everything that religion is not by dwelling within a series of philosophical and historical spaces—spaces in which secularism emerged as both an extension of, and alternative to, religious beliefs, practices, and categories. Throughout the semester we will explore how versions of the secular have defined and authorized such things as the meaning of the human subject, the structure of the political collective, the proper code of ethics, the nature of history, experiences of space and time, standards of cruelty and health, the ways and means of the sense perception, as well as sexual and racial differences. The goal of this course is not simply to point out that the ideals of secularism have failed to materialize but, on the contrary, to explore the degree to which its definitional categories and attitudes regarding “religion” have.


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

John Lardas Modern

Franklin and Marshall College

Private College or University
Institution Type

Resource Type

Undergraduate Course
Class Type

Date Published

Religious Studies, Anthropology, History, Philosophy

Atheism/Agnosticism/Skepticism, Protestant
Religous Tradition

Gender/Women/ Sexuality, Politics/Law/Government, Pluralism/Secularism/Culture Wars, Race/Ethnicity, Science/Technology/Environment

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