American Religious History

Course No. 897
Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 897
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Course Overview

Join historian Patrick N. Allitt in exploring the story of religious life in America from the first European contacts to the late 20th century. Along the way, you learn the answers to two important questions:

  • Why does America, unlike virtually any other industrial nation, continue to show so much religious vitality?
  • Why are the varieties of religion found here so numerous and diverse?

The best way to look for explanations of this truly remarkable vitality and diversity, argues Professor Allitt, is to study the nation's religious history.

On the one hand, that study includes examining religion from the directions you might expect, including its formal beliefs, ideas, communal or institutional loyalties, and its styles of worship.

But Professor Allitt also examines religion's influence on life "beyond the pews"—investigating the subtle but important links that have long brought religion into close contact with the intellectual, social, economic, and political concerns of Americans.

To give a notable and recent example: Professor Allitt explains how Martin Luther King, Jr., used a mixture of biblical references and appeals to patriotism to press the case for civil rights.

He also reflects on American religion as a sensory experience—a phenomenon whose deep spiritual and social meanings can in part be:

  • Seen in the design of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples
  • Heard in the sacred sounds of hymns, prayers, and chants
  • Smelled in Catholic or Buddhist incense
  • Tasted, as you discover in learning why the casserole may be the most "Protestant" of all dishes!

The Living Voice

A wonderful feature of these lectures is Professor Allitt's practice of reading aloud from primary sources, including first-person documents, as if to give history back its voice. Some readings are quite famous; others are rescued from obscurity.

You will find them by turns sublime, deeply moving, informative, and at times even charming. They include:

  • Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address
  • Martin Luther King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech
  • A Civil War veteran's memory of how Catholic sisters cared for the wounded after the Battle of Shiloh
  • The heartfelt letter to Virginia's governor in which John Rolfe explains his spiritual motives for wishing to marry Pocahontas
  • An account of the religious diversity of New York City—in 1683
  • An Anglican cleric's impressions of revivalism in the Carolinas during the First Great Awakening of the 1740s.

Richly Detailed Personal Glimpses

You'll also enjoy biographical sketches and anecdotes about dozens of brilliant, charismatic, or otherwise remarkable American religious figures, among them:

  • Puritan divine Cotton Mather
  • Mormon prophet Joseph Smith
  • Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy
  • The patriotic revivalist Billy Sunday, who during World War I said, "If you turn hell over, you'll find 'Made in Germany' stamped on the bottom!"

After scene-setting lectures that explain the religious situation of Europe in the early modern period and the spirituality of native Americans, Professor Allitt moves on to discussions of religion during the colonial and founding eras, including:

  • The Puritans
  • The Great Awakenings
  • The Revolution
  • The flowering of uniquely American religious tendencies such as Mormonism
  • The story of African American religion
  • The sectional crisis and Civil War.

Religion in a Changing Society

By the mid-19th century, the American religious landscape was growing more variegated. Large numbers of Catholics, first from Ireland and later from Germany, Poland, and Italy, were coming to what had been an overwhelmingly Protestant land. And growing numbers of Jewish immigrants further diversified the urban religious landscape later in the century.

You learn how both groups sometimes became targets of suspicion and intolerance.

Professor Allitt also discusses another rising reality of the times—the rapid growth of industrial cities and an economically vulnerable working class.

Challenges for Religious Leaders

Faced with these new conditions, religious leaders had to rethink the relationships among virtue, prosperity, and God's favor.

And still another challenge came from 19th-century discoveries in geology, biology, physics, archaeology, and comparative religion.

All of these raised questions about the authority and origins of the Bible. Evolution in particular presented a world of constant predation and strife, promising anything but divinely sponsored harmony.

The 20th century inherited these dilemmas, and they continue to resonate up to the present, with strains between liberal and more traditional Protestants being only one example.

Professor Allitt leads you through these storylines very closely during the second half of the course, paying special attention to the possible implications they carry for church-state relations.

You learn how cherished First Amendment principles of church-state separation and religious freedom had to be applied, mid-century, to difficult cases involving minority religions.

And Professor Allitt explains how, in a string of controversial decisions, the Supreme Court has struggled to balance these two principles.

20th-Century Challenges

As America became a great power in the 20th century and played a leading role in the world wars and the Cold War, religious Americans agonized over how they should respond.

You learn how debates over the ethics of force and memories of cataclysms such as the Holocaust continue to haunt American religious life to this day.

And you see how the century's sweeping social changes were partly shaped by religion and how they in turn powerfully affected religious life:

  • Fundamentalism proved highly adaptable
  • Immigrants and their descendants assimilated to American society, but religious ties proved far more durable than old languages and ethnic customs
  • Catholicism and Judaism each took on a markedly "American" flavor that could discomfit coreligionists abroad.

At the Center of the Storm

You also learn how religion stood at the center of the upheavals of the 1960s. Many African American civil rights leaders were ministers, inspired by the message of the gospel as well as the promise of the American founding. Religious convictions likewise intensified debates over the Vietnam War and helped energize the feminist movement.

As the times have changed, so, too, has religion in America. Some Americans who felt dissatisfied with the Judeo-Christian tradition turned to variants of Islam or Asian spiritualities such as Zen Buddhism. And new waves of immigrants brought their own versions of these traditions, sometimes bumping up against unfamiliar American versions of Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.

As this course shows, the story of American religious vitality and diversity continues to evolve.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Major Features of American Religious History
    American religious history is unusual for its diversity and for its sustained vitality, from the colonial period right through to the end of the 20th century. This course begins with Professor Patrick N. Allitt's discovery of American religious diversity and vitality when he came from Britain to live, work, and study in the United States. x
  • 2
    The European Background
    Not long after Columbus reached the Americas, the Reformation split Europe. The Puritans—English Protestant reformers opposed to the compromises of Anglicanism—were among the first religious separatists to contemplate moving to the New World. x
  • 3
    Natives and Newcomers
    Although native Americans had no word for or idea of "religion" as something distinct from other aspects of life, they had well-developed sacred ideas, rituals, and traditions, and it is possible to note both similarities and differences between their "religious" stance and that of the Europeans. x
  • 4
    The Puritans
    The Puritans wrote much; we can reconstruct their views in great detail. Here we consider how they created a religious and political way of life in New England; how they struggled to assure themselves of God's favor; how subsequent generations lamented the colony's loss of religious integrity; and the ways in which the Puritan outlook may have fed the Salem witch trials of 1692. x
  • 5
    Colonial Religious Diversity
    Even though few in the 17th century favored religious toleration in principle, the early presence of settlers from Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Holland, and Sweden created a situation of ethnoreligious diversity that would make toleration appealing. x
  • 6
    The Great Awakening
    The first truly "national" event in American history came in the form of a spellbinding English preacher named George Whitefield. He took the colonies by storm in 1740, founding the tradition of emotional revivalism that has played a central role in the nation's religious history ever since. By heightening the sense of immediate, individual ties to God, was Whitefield also helping to found the American Revolution? x
  • 7
    Religion and Revolution
    When the Revolutionary War began, both Rebels and Tories (as well as the pacifist Quakers) justified their actions in religious as well as political terms. Dozens of new, often millennial sects arose. Another outgrowth of this period was the First Amendment, which barred Congress from creating an established religion or preventing religion's free exercise. x
  • 8
    The Second Great Awakening
    This lecture traces the great revival of evangelical Protestantism in the early 19th century, the rise and significance of Methodism as a major Protestant group, and the links among the frontier, evangelicalism, social reform, and female leadership. x
  • 9
    Oneida and the Mormons
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of several new religions founded in America. Facing intense antipathy at first (in part because it blessed polygamy), it eventually established itself as a permanent and respectable part of the American religious landscape. Less enduring was the "Perfectionist" community of Oneida, New York, which also held unusual views of sex and marriage. x
  • 10
    Catholicism
    The arrival in the 1840s of numerous Irish Catholics, many of them driven out by famine, tested the limits of American religious tolerance, especially in eastern cities. Anti-Catholic literature, political movements, and rioting made Catholics feel besieged. They reacted partly by asserting that they too were good Americans, and partly by building a parallel educational and social world. x
  • 11
    African-American Religion
    Since the 1950s, historians have shown that the slaves mixed African traditions of conjure and music with Christianity in a blend that vitally sustained them through awful hardships. Christian beliefs also powerfully influenced whites on both sides of the slavery issue, slaveowners and abolitionists alike. x
  • 12
    The Civil War
    Divisions among the Protestant churches over slavery anticipated the Civil War. During the war, soldiers and civilians on both sides thought they were fighting a godly fight. Slaves saw their liberation in 1863 as a religious as well as political event, and both sides found a way to interpret the outcome of the war as further evidence of God's blessing. x
  • 13
    Victorian Developments
    The mid- and late 19th century saw new variants of Christianity bloom. Old preoccupations took on new forms amid a growing, urban-industrial society. Among the most important of these developments were the creation of movements linking religion and health, the growing role of women in religious life, and a new interest in biographical and literary approaches to the life and person of Jesus. x
  • 14
    Darwin and Other Dilemmas
    In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, developments in geology, biology, philology, and comparative religion threatened traditional ideas of nature and the Bible, provoking a crisis in American Christianity. Traditionalists and modernists both made intelligent and coherent cases for their views, but could find no common ground. x
  • 15
    Judaism in the 19th Century
    Between 1820 and 1860, America's scattered population of colonial-era Sephardic Jews was joined by a large German Jewish migration. Many joined the Reform movement and adopted American ways. A later and larger migration of Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe, by contrast, resisted adaptation. The Conservative movement was a distinctive American compromise between these two alternatives. x
  • 16
    Fundamentalism
    While liberal or modernist Protestants sought to adapt their faith to new social and intellectual conditions, another group, now called fundamentalists, upheld the infallible authority of the Bible and embraced "dispensational premillennialism," the theory that the prophetic books of the Bible spell out timetables for the ages of world history and the coming apocalypse. x
  • 17
    War and Peace
    The United States became a world power in the 20th century, and faced hard ethical questions about whether, when, and how to fight. Religious groups did much to shape public opinion often, but not always, in support of military action. Quakers and Mennonites remained pacifists, while the Catholic Church, superpatriotic early in the century, later became a critic of policies that involved the use or threat of nuclear weapons. x
  • 18
    Twentieth-Century Catholicism
    The Irish-dominated American Catholic Church became far more ethnically diverse after 1880, as new immigrants arrived from Southern and Eastern Europe. The Church's distinctive beliefs and strong presence made for tension between Catholics and Protestants. But John Kennedy's presidential victory and the Second Vatican Council transformed both the Church's inner tone and outward relations with American society. x
  • 19
    The Affluent Society
    Amid postwar prosperity and suburbanization, churches played an ambiguous role. More people belonged and attended than ever before, but they looked to church more for comfort and aid than for doctrine and discipline. The church buildings themselves were often magnificent structures, but many influential religious voices of the era warned against the spiritual dangers of materialism. x
  • 20
    The Civil Rights Movements
    Churches have long been key political as well as spiritual institutions for African-Americans. Clergy, notably Martin Luther King, Jr., led the civil rights movement, using a powerful biblical rhetoric that appealed to blacks and whites alike. Black Muslims, by contrast, preached racial pride and separatism, also based on a sustaining religious vision. In years since, other protest movements have borrowed the rhetoric and style of the civil rights movement. x
  • 21
    The Counterculture and Feminism
    The 1960s saw the rise of an array of religious cults and sects, many of them short-lived, but a few more durable. They revisited some familiar themes in American history, especially the idea of charismatic religious leadership and apocalyptic end-times, but they were linked also to the Cold War environment, the age's technology, and the protest movements and "isms" that came in the wake of civil rights. x
  • 22
    Asian Religions
    Despite scattered interest among intellectuals, Asian religions "arrived" culturally in America only in the 20th century. The 1950s "Beats" and the 1960s counterculture were taken with forms of Asian spirituality. But what seemed exotic to whites was for Asian immigrants a familiar link to the lands they had left, and their experiences in the late 20th century mirrored those of earlier immigrant generations from Europe. x
  • 23
    Church and State
    The First Amendment requires nonestablishment and free exercise, but has not foreclosed disputes over what those mean or just where the boundaries between religion and politics should be drawn. Court decisions, political campaigns, and societal changes over the last 30 years have made such disputes vigorous indeed. x
  • 24
    The Enduring Religious Sensibility
    This course has shown that religion has played a central part in shaping American society and its distinctive characteristics. Most striking in comparative perspective is the fact that American religious involvement and commitment did not decline at a time when such declines were the experience of the other Western industrial nations. x

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Your professor

Patrick N. Allitt

About Your Professor

Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching...
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Reviews

American Religious History is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 98.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quality Riveting Presenations I have taught Religious History within a parochial High School context for over 15 years. I found these presentations enlightening. His presentations broadened my understanding and thus my teaching.
Date published: 2015-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Big Picture and the Details Too Professor Patrick Allitt has a good voice and a good presentation style, but it is the content that is the strength of this course. Allitt covers the subject matter of this series by looking at the forest and the trees of American religious history. He not only covers the history of the various major religions in the United States, buy takes a look at the conditions that early practitioners of those religions experienced throughout history. It is a vast topic, and one for which it is impossible to cover every sect or denomination in detail even in a 24 lecture series. Despite this Allitt manages to cover a lot of ground including the histories of Catholicism, Protestant denominations, African-American churches, Judaism and even eastern religions from their introduction into America up to modern times. He also talks about some of the prominent religious leaders, evangelists and personalities throughout who influenced American religious culture and politics. Professor Allitt covers this complex topic objectively and professionally, while maintaining a pleasant and sometimes humorous demeanor. This course will appeal to those both with an interest in religious history and in American history. The Great Courses have done it again, in presenting an interesting and enjoyable first rate course.
Date published: 2015-03-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good material poorly presented Good content, good material, well organized and worth the time to listen and absorb. Would be a better rating if not the presenter injected his own personal ideology into the material. Specifically he made judgements of Historical beliefs known by sniggering at them, laughing at them, anachronistically labeling them and otherwise showing his personal superiority. It was hard to ignore his condescension and pay attention to this fascinating subject. I will not participate in other courses by this presenter.
Date published: 2015-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Balanced, Objective I am deeply convicted that there is a god, and that that god is the God of the Bible, and I was concerned that somewhere in this course professor Allitt would seize the opportunity to zing people of faith like me. I was pleased that Allitt maintained scholarly objectivity throughout. The only way in which I found this course lacking is that Allitt was constrained by time to not go into greater depth, or cover some areas he said he would have liked cover. This course is a broad, not in-depth overview, and it would be nice if there could be follow-on courses to supplement.
Date published: 2014-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Stay with this course When I first started listening to this course I thought I was going to be disappointed. Frankly, the course introduction was dry and I was not impressed with the ;presenter. However, I stayed with it and boy am I glad I did. The subsequent lessons were very interesting and gave a good overview of the subject. Even the presenter grew on me and I was much more positive about him than in the beginning. Had it not been for the first lesson I would have given the course and the presenter five stars. All in all a very good presentation of an interesting subject.
Date published: 2014-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Religion in America Knew almost nothing about Religion in American history despite reading a lot of books and taking several courses in College!! Rather embarrassing but after listening to Professor Vandiver, I do feel that I have a greater knowledge of the varieties of religious thought and how religion has shaped the United States. It helps to understand the interaction between religion and social movements and also to better understand reactions against religion. The professor takes care to explain the various strands, including controversies and provides information about sects that were important during the colonial and post colonial periods. The accompanying handbook has additional readings if you are interested in the subject.
Date published: 2014-10-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Survey Course of American Religious History Audio CD review: Dr. Allitt presents a very good survey of American Religious History from the perspective of a 20th Century British immigrant to the US. This perspective gives a largely external view which helps remove certain biases. Particularly interesting are the theories on why religion is practiced by so many in the US while in Europe only a small fraction participate. It is especially interesting to learn that the waves of immigrants to the US were typically more focused on their religion in their new country than they were in their country of origin. The course shows the juxtaposition of American religious changes with American historical events. Dr. Allitt shows that the founding fathers were not particularly religious. For example, Jefferson went as far as crafting his own bible which eliminated all references to Jesus as anything other than a great man. During the Civil War, both sides invoked the bible as supporting their cause for and against slavery. The various influences of Christianity (Protestant, Catholic and Sectarian) are shown throughout the course, but so are Native American, African-American, Jewish, and Asian religions. Dr. Allitt shows how world events shaped religion in the US as much as the other way around. The lecture on "War and Peace" shows the progression of religious acclimation and/or justification for and against WWI, WWII, the Cold War, and Vietnam War as well as how individual religions changed in response (e.g. Judaism as a result of the Holocaust). Dr. Allitt is a very good lecturer who mixed a blend of knowledge, insight and humor. He stumbles sometimes but recovers nicely. His British accent reminds one throughout the course that his is an external perspective. The course guide provides lecture summaries in outline form, a timeline of events, a glossary, biographical notes and a bibliography. Given the survey nature of the lectures these aid the student in probing a bit deeper. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in a survey off all the religions and their influence on and from American history and culture. However, for anyone looking for the association of any one particular religion as the "American religion", there will be disappointment. Dr. Allitt makes it clear that the US Constitution as well as subsequent legislation and Supreme Court decisions make the separation of Church and State a clear American tenet..
Date published: 2014-07-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Parts Were Good Parts Were Abominable I was very pleased with this series as I began listening to it. Despite what Peirs Morgan says Americans love foreign accents and I really loved listening to Dr. Allit's accent. Religious history is something of a hobby of mine, and I've listened to a lot of the religion and history courses offered by The Great Courses. I was excited when Dr. Allit gave his history about how impressed he was with the religiosity of the US when he came here as a student, and especially when he said he was one of the few observant people in England. As I said, I do a lot of reading about Christian History. One of my favorite authors on the subject is Rodney Stark. He claims that Christianity in America revitalized Christianity, and I have to agree with him. I was hoping that this might give me some more insight into that. For the first 7 lectures things sounded pretty good. Then he got to Onieda and Mormons. Now I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more commonly called Mormons. I don't expect Dr. Allit to know as much about Mormon history as I do because I read a lot about it, and he actually references one of my favorite Mormon authors Richard Bushman. And I know that it's OK to mock the Mormon religion, after all a big hit on Broadway is basically mocking our religion and no one really seemed to care. However, I expected more from a lecture series from The Great Courses. The LDS Church has an official account of Joseph Smith's First Vision that is considered scripture. I, being a well read in the history of Mormonism, know that there are other accounts as well. However, I wondered why Dr. Allit chose not to use the official version, or to at least point out that he was not using the official account. That was a small point but it seems to set the tone. He says that there were rumors of polygamy were being practiced in the Missouri period. Something I've never heard before, and don't think it's true. Then he said a sentence that can only be construed as misleading. He said 6 of the 11 witnesses of the Golden Plates left the Church, and immediately launched into the account of John C. Bennett. The way he said it "I" thought John C. Bennett was one of the witnesses of the Golden Plates. I had to go back an re-listen to the account to make sure I'd heard it right it was such an egregious implication. John C. Bennett is a problem for Mormon history but this presentation was ridiculous. So the main thing about the Mormons is polygamy, and just to make sure that everyone gets the point he reads from Mark Twain's account of the Mormons in "Roughing It". Now I have no problem with Mark Twain's account and it is funny, but I do have a problem when it is used in a lecture course for mocking purposes. I realized that that was how it was being used as I heard his audience laughing at the account. Nothing was said to put it in context. Dr. Allit's point was that some American Religions had strange practices and Onieda and the Mormons were two of them. OK fair enough I'm used to that. After all I'm a Mormon and I've been on a mission. I've been abused for my religion. I was going to ignore it. Then he talked about Aimee Semple McPherson as part of the Fundamentalist movement. After he talked about her I thought she was simply a scam artist who was involved scandal. The way Dr. Allit talked about it I was sure she was hypocrite. However, since I never had heard of her, I decided to do some research my self. Dr. Allit said that she'd ran away with a technician and was in a love nest with him on the coast of California, while Aimee said she'd been kidnapped and held in Mexico. He didn't say it was alleged that that was what happened but that that was what had happened. I thought she was a scamming Jezebel. However, it turns out that Dr. Allit apparently just likes to present the most salacious case possible regarding religious figures. My research was not in depth, but I did learn that Aimee went to trial twice and was found not guilty over this event. I also found out that the technician she was supposedly with said that he was never with her, and that he turned down a great deal of money that he could have gotten from the tabloids of the time had he said it. He always spoke highly of her. Also, after this event Aimee continued to have a successful ministry. I don't know what Dr. Allit was trying to do with Aimee McPherson but his presentation of her in this lecture was abominable. After I found that out I just had to let people know just how bad these two presentations were. I don't really have the time to research everything that Dr. Allit says but with these two accounts in the lectures my thoughts are that he is very prejudicial against religious beliefs he doesn't agree with like Mormons and Pentecostals.
Date published: 2014-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from informative and very engaging I've enjoyed every course from Prof Allitt, so buying this one was an easy decision. He delivers a thorough and extremely interesting history of religion in the United States, starting with the practices of Native Americans and a bit of back story about the Reformation and developments in England. He covers both major trends known to people who know history and some lesser known but very interesting figures. Prof Allitt is again a very entertaining and commanding lecturer in this course.
Date published: 2014-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An engaging and comprehensive overview Professor Allitt delivers an excellent introduction to the history of religion in America. One could devote years of study to any given lecture topic in this course, but I feel that the professor delves as deeply into each topic as is possible given the format and time constraints. I enjoyed his reading recommendations, and the unbiased way in which he discussed each faith tradition or historical episode.
Date published: 2014-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic course. I raced through it. I never would have sought out this course, but I picked it up on a whim, based entirely upon the reviews here on the website. I must say thank you to all the reviewers, because I found this to be one of the most delightful and captivating of the 30+ Great Courses I've listened to. Professor Allitt is completely engaging, and packs each lecture with great portraits of historical significance, entertaining anecdotes, and recommendations for continued reading. His enthusiasm for the subject is evident throughout, and his ability to help one view the U.S. through an outsider's perspective (he's British) makes him a modern day de Tocqueville. If I had any complaint, it might be that non-western religions get very little attention. However, that very well may be the proper proportion given the dominance of judeo-christian religions in U.S. history. Do not hesitate to listen to this course. It's a guaranteed winner.
Date published: 2013-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent - much broader than I expected I was fairly ambivalent about buying this course, because the title didn't seem particularly interesting. If you are new to Great Courses courses on religion, particularly Christianity, this is definitely not the one to start with. I suggest the Old and New Testament courses then History of Christian Theology, then History of the Catholic Church (even if you're not Catholic), Book of Genesis, Jesus and the Gospels, Greatest Controversies, and Story of the Bible, pretty much in that order. THEN definitely get this course. It is much broader than the title would suggest and a lot of the more subtle points won't make much sense without the broader and deeper background of the group of courses recommended above. To give you an example, Prof. Allitt pretty much starts with a discussion of NATIVE AMERICAN religions. Bet when you read the course title, that never even crossed your mind! Although, for obvious reasons, a course on "American Religious History" will primarily deal with Christianity, the course covers the whole range. Great material--but definitely should not be one of your first religion courses.
Date published: 2013-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Respectful, objective ... with a little sting. Audio download. Depending on your point of view, religion can be many things. — There is religion as many of us understand it: a SET OF BELIEFS about divine beings, about the purpose of a good life, about a possible existence after death. All these may be bound with moral rules. — There is religion as a SET OF SOCIAL RITUALS that bind communities together: ceremonies surrounding birth, death and marriages, proper clothing and dietary rules. Popular religion, in particular, often seems to be all about externals and appearances. What people really think privately is irrelevant as long as social rituals are not flouted. — There is religion as a FORM OF IDENTITY. In multi-ethnic or fluid societies, some individuals seek certainty by belonging to more-easily-understood mini-communities within the larger society. Some insist they are Catholic even though they ignore Papal dictates when inconvenient. Some Jews adamantly identify with their tradition despite being atheists. Given these realities, Dr. Allitt's AMERICAN RELIGIOUS HISTORY covers a large topic even though American history is short by European standards. And yet he does so in a very entertaining way. No anthropological or sociological jargon. His point of departure in each lesson are a few key individuals. It is through their perceptions that we grasp in outline the complex whole. The course guidebook is also excellent. It covers not only what he says, but it also includes a glossary and a bibliography with commentary that is ideal should you decide to read more on specific topics. _______________ Many commentators made a point to say that Allitt is fair and respectful of the various faiths he describes. This is true. He is the perfect impartial guide. At the same time, however, this history implicitly contradicts the "literalism" popular among some fundamentalists and evangelicals. He does not do so by giving a new interpretation of the Bible. Allitt is not a theologian. But as a historian describing how each new religious movement reinterpreted the Bible to suit its values, while loudly claiming a direct line to God, it becomes obvious that the whole enterprise depends on collective amnesia. Everyone claims to know what Christ thought. Everyone claims the biblical message is plain for all to see. But no one is interested in asking how the very same words could mean so many different things through the ages. That is what history is all about — our socially-conditioned nature. ___________________ Allitt's presentation skills are outstanding. Just as he did in his other course on VICTORIAN BRITAIN, he balances larger social trends with individual biographies very well. The course is weakest in very recent trends such as the growing popularity of Evangelicalism and the spread of Islam thanks to new immigrants. Highly recommended nevertheless.
Date published: 2013-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exploring the spiritual heart of America Dr. Patrick Allitt is a joy to listen to, not only because of his British accent, but because he speaks confidently, knowledgeably, and convincingly on the subject at hand. The topic of religion is a potential land-mine for study, but he negotiates through it safely by presenting all sides in a fair manner: Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Native Americans and more. The course is balanced between lectures that deal with specific historical themes (the Civil War, the 60s countercultural explosion, church and state) and those that focus on the beliefs and practices of specific groups. He peppers his lectures with quotes from books, sermons, and other period sources, and leaves you wanting to discover more about each successive topic. I thought I knew quite a bit about religion in America, and was delighted to discover many “missing links” in my knowledge. I have two more courses from Prof. Allitt in my queue, and I hope he records more!
Date published: 2013-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Historical Overview Professor Patrick Allitt covers a tremendous amount of territory in this 24-lecture course produced in 2001 as he takes one from the religious practices of Native Americans all the way through the history of religion toward the close of the twentieth century. Along the way he visits the Puritans, the thirteen colonies, the Great Awakenings, the Mormons, the Catholics, African-American religion, the Civil War, Darwin, Judaism, Fundamentalism, the Civil Rights Movement, Feminism, and much more. Professor Allitt was well-organized and carefully plotted his path through this vast time interval. His delivery was clear and, by necessity, concise. He used a roughly chronological historical approach with occasional information on theology tossed in for better understanding. This is not a theology course. There is not much here to be controversial about – unlike some other Teaching Company courses on religion. The course book provides ample references for further reading and nice biographical notes of the important people met along the way. Professor Allitt clearly demonstrates respect for the religious groups he describes and in so doing outlines how many peoples of different faiths came to create the varied and diverse culture of 21st century America.
Date published: 2013-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravo! Professor Allitt has done it again. It is such a pleasure listening to an Englishman who has such a great knowledge of the American people and the American culture. After listening to this course and his "American Identity" course, I look forward to other of his courses. I found it interesting to follow American history through the 'lens' of its religions and religious movements. While we all learned about the Puritans and other groups who first came to America because of religious persecution, Professor Allitt takes us on a journey through our own intolerances and ties in his religious history with what is happening in society in general. From the Civil War to Feminism, from the Mormons to Darwin, from Fundamentalism to the Counterculture, he covers it all. How he covered so much in so little time is exemplary -- even if I now want Part 2.
Date published: 2013-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Prof. Allitt is one of TTC's best instructors. I have listened to several other courses by him, and this one is also excellent. I chose this course because he was teaching it -- not necessarily because of the topic -- and I enjoyed it more than I expected. He chose his topics well to cover the scope of American religion. His lectures are clear and well-organized. I enjoyed his sense of humor, and I also enjoyed the anecdotes he throws in to illustrate his points. He provided a nice course guide and bibliography. I think what I enjoy most about Prof. Allitt is that each of his lectures could stand by themselves and be a complete (although very short) course on their own. What I enjoyed most in relation to this course is that he covered all of the major religious themes of American religious history. While I enjoyed all of his lectures, the ones on Native-American religion and feminist influences were pleasant surprises. Highly recommended for anyone at all interested in this topic or in American history in general. Excellent course.
Date published: 2013-02-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not Spectacular Look at the titles of each lecture and you will get good idea of what this course has to offer. Straight forward, no surprises. Was good, but not exciting.
Date published: 2012-09-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good First Half I discovered "American Religious History" after enjoying "Victorian Britain." Professor Allitt finds quotations in novels and autobiographies to put his readers in touch with the historical period. I learned a lot from him in the first half of the course and plan to read "Errand into the Wilderness" by Perry Miller, recommended by Dr. Allitt. I did not find as interesting the second half of the course, after the Civil War. A great mystery in this course, almost as great as why Professor Allitt links Protestants and casseroles, is why he chooses not to mention one of the major world religions that: • Was first mentioned in America by a Presbyterian minister at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893; • Originated in 1844, a year calculated by William Miller as the time for the return of Christ; • Is described in another of The Great Courses, "Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know"; • Abolished priesthood, prohibited slavery, and taught other principles covered by Dr. Allitt including the equality of men and women, the common foundation of all religions, the unity of science and religion, and that racial prejudice was America's "most challenging issue"; • Whose world leader, after 50 years of imprisonment, visited 48 cities in the United States in 1912 speaking at meetings open to all races; and • Currently has about 160,000 believers in more than 1,700 localities throughout the United States; Would it not be logical to include such a religion, given the purpose of the course was to answer the question, "Why does America, unlike virtually any other industrialized nation, continue to show so much religious vitality?"
Date published: 2012-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable course Allitt is an excellent lecturer. I enjoyed this course while I multi tasked with some chores--his lectures made for a wonderful few days which otherwise would have been tedious. Special strength: His ability to bring in novels and other fiction as illustrations--sophisticated choices--he is obviously widely read. I also appreciate Allitt's respect for all religious traditions. Only weakness I observed is that some of these lectures duplicate some of the lectures that Allitt delivers in the US American history survey course.
Date published: 2012-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative and easy to follow As an American, we sometimes take religion for granted - it's here and seemingly always been here, so we forget how much influence the different faiths have had on our country's life; from it's founding, to its creation as a nation thru the expansion up to today. Prof. Allitt does an 'easy to listen to and follow' job of showing our history through the lens of religion, how religious life impacted our being and made this country - no matter what the religion was. I found this highly enjoyable and very informative. Prof. Allitt doesn't try to convert you, he just lays out the story in a fun and interesting manner and lets you enjoy the historical experience.
Date published: 2012-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Perspective This survey course of American Religious History is an excellent course in the Great Courses catalog. Although Dr. Allitt teaches other TTC offerings, I found this course to be an interesting, ' optional' lens from which to view American History. Sometimes we use other lenses in which to view history, and TTC uses several of these in the course offerings(Military history, Turning Points in History, Socio/Economic, among others) The idea of using Religion as one of those lenses as a focal point is a good one. After all, one is reminded that the pursuit of religious freedom was one of the driving forces in settlers coming to these new lands, in the first place. This review concerns the Audio version, so here are my observations: ) Professor Allitt is a very engaging teacher. He is interesting, and presents material as if he were 'telling a story.' His British accent adds to the suspense of his narrative, and I found it to be very pleasant to listen to. He is a master at presenting particular religious concepts so that one can understand the narrative, without trying to 'convert' one to that belief itself. (For example, compared to the C.S Lewis lecturer, who sounds as if he is trying to 'convert' the listener, rather than just putting the 'information on the table' for the listener to analyize.) 2) These lectures are informative, and add a satisfing variation on American History. While I can't relate specific concepts that I learned, I can state that I gained a better, more-informed appreciation for our religious heritage. Sometimes I didn't exactly agree with how things worked out, (and all nation's have certain elements of their history that are not always apart of national pride) but I did come to be more aware of how those events shaped our over-all identity. 3) As other reviews have expressed, I, too, agree that some type of update to this course is in order. The reason for this is that our multi-cultural landscape has changed substantilly since the 1990's,( with what were once seldom found religions now becoming more and more prevalent in this country) All in all, I highly recommend this course to anyone that desires a different perspective on American History.
Date published: 2011-12-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from American Religious History I have listened to Professor Allitt's course on the Conservative Tradition over and over.This course is equally clear and concise.. I am a retired Protestant minister and in this course Allitt's portrayal of my faith tradition's history is very capable. However the course needs an update. Although in this country there are more followers of Islam except for Christianity and possibly Judaism Professor Allitt spends only a few minutes on Islam at the end of a lecture covering all the Asian religions. American Muslim are making major contributions to worldwide Islam. I want to learn more about this. Also in America there are exciting things happening in interfaith dialogue that involve tens of thousands followers of many faiths. North America is the world leader in this dialogue which are having a major impact on every man, woman and child now and throughout the 21st century. Please consider asking him to update these lectures. I am confident that Professor Allitt is quite capable to introduce students to these important directions in American -- and global -- religion. Thank you.
Date published: 2011-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview Professor Allitt is truely one of the star instructors of the Teaching Company. He was brilliant in the American History course and he demonstrates his competence again in this course. The lectures are organized, well researched, and the presentations both informative and entertaining . This course is a very nice complement to the American History course. I highly recommned it for all those interested in this subject.
Date published: 2011-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Course! Thinking about US history from the perspective of religions is a fantastic way to study US culture. The lectures in this course are very enlightening plus the professor takes an unbiased look at all the different religious groups he discusses. Reports from newspapers and other sources that were contemporaries of the various groups are discussed to present a feel for how the groups fit in with the culture they were in. Dr. Allitt has a wonderful presentation style and I found myself wanting to hear more about each topic. For instance, I had heard about the tragedy of Jonestown but did not know anything about it before studying this course. I would welcome an additional course that covers more about the contemporary religious environment in the US including groups such as the Scientologists, Jehovah Witnesses, and the like.
Date published: 2011-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Factual and not opinionated As an outsider, Professor Alitt takes, to my opinion, no sides in terms of pro- or anti-religion. His lecture is well organized, clearly presented with great width and depth, good logic and humor. However perhaps he's 'graduated' from religion, some of his comments may sound mockery to some believers while he's just trying to be funny. Overall, I learned a great deal on the major events and key religious figures in the US history. It definitely helped me in better understanding the American culture.
Date published: 2010-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview I agree with other reviewers' comments that this course was broad and that the professor was opinionated. However, these were not weaknesses in my opinion but strengths. The course give a great overview of how certain religious movements have come and gone in America and of the influence of these movements on the American character. I thought it was fascinating--and extremely relevant to today's religious and political climate. Could the course have been more in depth? Sure. But that's certainly not to say that it lacked substance. I thought it was a fascinating overview. Among the best Teaching Company courses that I've listened to.
Date published: 2010-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The problem with this course, if it has one, is that the subject is too broad. Several of the lecture topics could themselves be the subject of entire courses. The TTC should consider issuing a second version of this course or a sequel to it, and Professor Allitt should, by all means, be the person to teach it. Religion is a fascinating subject, in large part because the topic has attracted both some of the world's greatest minds and some of its biggeset lunatics. Professor Allitt clearly has a deep respect for the topic and treats it accordingly, but without losing his sense of humor and without disclosing his personal bent. While I could guess at his religious persuasion based upon his brief biography, I'd have a tough time guessing based upon anything he said in his lectures. This is necessarily a summary course, but Allitt does an excellent job of hitting the highlights, identifying the significant religious figures and discussing the important movements in America's history. I found evey lecture interesting and came away from the course anxious to do some follow-up reading. This is not a theology course. While Allitt discusses the belief systems behind several of the religious movements, he does so only briefly and only to explain what some of the movements were about. Allitt has one of the best lecturing styles of any of the TTC professors. He moves through his lectures effortlessly, without speaking too fast, getting overly excited, or getting sidetracked. I'd rate him amongst the very best of the TTC's professors and I'd strongly recommend this course to anyone with an interest in American history. This is a five star plus course.
Date published: 2010-05-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good, but... This course was 90% very good information and 10% heavily opinionated. The professor's knowledge of the Bible is limited (or possibly just biased against it).
Date published: 2010-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Gentleman and a Scholar This has certainly been one of my favorite courses from TTC. Professor Allitt is superb! He teaches in a clear, incisive yet respectful way the multi-faceted gem that has been America's religious experience. Regardles of their faiths or doubts, listeners will gain stimulating insights into this vital fiber of America's being. He seeks not to proselytize nor debunk but to enlighten; and at that objective he suceeds well. Professor Allitt has edited a 1999 book - "Major Problems in American Religious History" - that can be a useful augmentation of this course. Another is the 2003 "Religion in America Since 1945." Both are written in the same erudite yet comprehendable and pleaseant style that mark his lectures here. I regret only that these lectures come in audio alone. A 2nd edition, perhaps significantly expanded and definitely in well-illustrated DVD, is a must someday soon. (TTC please take note.) Professor Allitt is quintessentially " a gentleman and a scholar." This course showcases those attributes and is highly recommended.
Date published: 2010-04-04
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