What is the proper role of religion in public life? To what extent should religious belief shape our political discourse? How should religious leaders approach politics? How should political leaders approach religion? These questions have only gained salience in recent history. Religion and politics seem deeply intertwined in our current political moment, with religion defining the contours of many political and social debates in the U.S. today.

This online course will examine the ways in which religion and politics intersect in a liberal democracy. Among the questions students will ask are: What is the role of religion in a liberal democracy? How has the American experience been exceptional, and is the decline in religious affiliation, especially among younger generations, a cause for concern? What are the limits of religious tolerance and liberty in a diverse society?

Image: J. Maze Burbank, Religious Camp Meeting, c. 1839

Bryan Garsten on Rethinking Solitude

Faculty

Bryan Garsten

Bryan Garsten is Professor of Political Science at Yale University. He writes on questions about political rhetoric and deliberation, the meaning of representative government, the relationship of politics and religion, and the place of emotions in political life.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session

Readings:

  • John Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration (1689)
  • James Madison, “Memorial & Remonstrance against Religious Assessments” (1785)

 Questions:

  1. According to Locke, why is the care of souls not the business of civil society?
  2. In what does the act of tolerating consist? Is it only a negative “action”?
  3. What is Locke’s argument against theocracy?
  4. What goes into Locke’s distinction between practical and speculative articles of faith?
  5. According to Madison, why is the exercise of religion a natural right? What is the relationship between the religious person’s right and duties?
  6. What are Madison’s principled or deductive arguments against religious tests? What are his empirical or inductive arguments against them? Why does he use both?

Readings:

  • Livy, The History of Rome, Book I, chs. 18–21
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract, Book IV, ch. 8 (1762)

 Questions:

  1.  Livy describes fear of the gods as “a principle of the greatest efficacy with the multitude, in that rude and ignorant age.” How did Numa use that principle for political ends? What political functions did religious rituals serve under Numa?
  2. Why was Numa unconcerned with the dangers of theocracy? Should he have been concerned?
  3. In this chapter, Rousseau argues that theological and civil intolerance are the same. What is his argument for this claim? Is it effective?
  4. According to Rousseau, what are the three kinds of religion and how do they fit (or not fit) with civil society?
  5. Why does Rousseau claim that religious and civil obligations are necessarily incompatible? Is he correct?

Readings:

  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835–40)
    • 1, part 1, ch. 2
    • 1, part 2, ch. 9 (only the sections titled “Religion considered as a political institution…” and “On the principal causes of religion’s power…”)
    • 2, part 1, chs. 5–8

 Questions:

  1. How—both in practice and in theory—does the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom combine in early New England? Where the combination falters, is there a solution that does not require diluting either spirit?
  2. How does the separation of church and state contribute to the co-reign of the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom? How does it contribute to the individual benefit of each?
  3. What is the utility of religion? What is its special utility among democratic peoples?
  4. What did Tocqueville mean by “pantheism,” and why did he think democratic citizens were likely to find it attractive?

Readings:

  • US. Constitution, Amendment I
  • Selections from Religion and the Constitution
  • Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)
  • Employment Division v. Smith (1990)
  • The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993)
  • Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014)

Questions:

See the “Notes and Questions” after each case in Religion and the Constitution.

Readings:

  • Selections from Religion and the Constitution
  • Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)
  • Lee v. Weisman (1992)
  • United States v. Seeger (1965)
  • Welsh v. United States (1970)

Questions:

See the “Notes and Questions” after each case in Religion and the Constitution.

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