Seminar in United States History



Spring 2013

HIUS 4501 (4)

Seminar in United States History

"Religion and U.S. Foreign Relations in the Twentieth Century"

Lauren Turek

This course will examine the interplay between religion and American foreign policy during the twentieth century. We will study how American leaders, from President McKinley to George W. Bush, have drawn on religious rhetoric to justify or explain their decision-making in times of crisis. In addition to surveying the major events in U.S. foreign relations, we will explore the role of religion and religious ideas in shaping national identity, core values, and what some historians have termed the “American civil religion.” We will seek to understand how amorphous cultural influences, such as religion and ideology, informed both elite and public perceptions about what role the United States should play in the world. Through this course, we will also assess the influence that religious interest groups had on American policy toward China, the Soviet Union, Central America, and the Middle East at various points during the twentieth century.

Additionally, we will consider how foreign policy decisions and debates affected religious groups, thought, and institutions. We will examine how international events reshaped theological beliefs, galvanized religious interest groups, and created divisions within churches, synagogues, and mosques. We will also explore the different ways in which Americans looked to theology to comprehend foreign affairs and justify their policy stances. This will include studies of leading religious intellectuals as well as common laypeople. Finally, we will remain attentive to the broader social and political forces that influenced public opinion, foreign policy decisions, and religious belief in twentieth century America. The readings, a mix of secondary and primary sources, will help students select and develop a topic on which to write a 25-page primary source-based research paper.

The first five weeks of the course will be devoted to common background readings and discussion in class, during which time students will select topics for their research papers.  For the remainder of the semester, students will conduct their research and draft their papers. The class will continue to meet to discuss progress, critique drafts, and assess how their research as a group relates to existing scholarship on religion and American foreign policy. There will be no examinations in the course. Grades will be determined by the quality of the paper (70%) and contributions to class discussion (30%).

 Note:  This course fulfills the second writing requirement.  

 Required Texts (some substitutions may be made):
•    The Missionary Mind and American East Asia Policy, James Reed
•    Blowing the Whistle on Genocide: Josiah E. DuBois and the Struggle for a U.S. Response to the Holocaust, Rafael Medoff
•    Spiritual Weapons, T. Jeremy Gunn
•    Religion and American Foreign Policy, William Inboden



Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904



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