Religion in

REL 105
Honors Introduction to Religious Studies

Benjamin Franklin's proposed seal for the United States, "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God" (1856 drawing pictured above; enlarge; for the history of the Great Seal, go here and here [PDF])

Dr. Russell McCutcheon

Course Books

Carl Olson (ed.), Theory and Method in the Study of Religion: A Selection of Critical Readings

John Locke's "Letter Concerning Toleration" (1690 edition)

Interested in applying for admission to the University of Alabama's Honors College?

About Online Readings

The online readings for this course are posted in the form of PDF files (Portable Document Format), stored on the Department's "secure" server, and are therefore not freely available on the Internet.

To open these files you must click on the links and, when prompted, enter your Bama ID and Password.

If you have forgotten your Bama ID, but know your Campus Wide ID (CWID), then please go here. If you still have difficulty accessing these readings, then contact the instructor by email.

Those who need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader 6.0 to open PDFs (a free software available on the web and which is already installed on all campus computers) can go here.

Note: larger PDFs can take a long time to download (due to a slow Internet connection) and a long time to print (depending on your printer). Some students may therefore wish to download these files in a computer lab on campus, and then either print them there or store them on a floppy disk or zip/junk drive (to read/print them later at home).

Links of Interest

The following alphabetically arranged links provide a sampling of various current US representations of the Church/State issue.

Note: the following sites are offered as contemporary data for analysis in this course; they are not listed because of any viewpoints or positions that they endorse.

American Center for Law and Justice

American Civil Liberties Union: Religious Liberty

American United for Separation of Church and State

Coverage of Judge Moore archived at

Defending the 10 Commandments: Judge Roy Moore Timeline

Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

Foundation for Moral Law, Inc.

Introduction to the Principle of the Separation Between Church and State

Judge Roy Moore, the Ten Commandments, and the Law

Montgomery Advertiser, list of articles on Judge Moore and the Ten Commandments legal debate

Myths, Misconceptions, and Misunderstandings: Separation of Church and State

New York Times article on the court-ordered removal of biology textbook stickers in Georgia

Television News Archive

What's actually on the Alabama Supreme Court Office's Ten Commandments Monument? See here and here.

As the honors introduction to the academic study of religion, REL 105 examines in greater detail than REL 100 theories of the historic origin and contemporary social function of religion in relation to wider sets of human beliefs, social practices, institutions, and culture in general.

REL 105 carries a "Humanities" Core designation; its goal is therefore to prompt students to learn to define, accurately describe, and compare in a non-evaluative manner so as to find similarities and differences in various forms of human behavior--findings that have prompted scholars to develop theories to account for how social movements persist and change over time and place.

The course is structured around lectures and student presentations. It therefore provides Honors, and "Honors eligible" students (those not enrolled in the Honors College but holding a 3.3 GPA), with a smaller class setting to study in greater detail such things as influential U.S. Supreme Court Judgments on prayer in the public school system, as well as read Plato's Euthyphro, along with selections from the works of a number of important classic and contemporary theorists of religion.

The course begins with a consideration of how scholars go about defining religion and then moves on to a survey of the different approach scholars have used to study religion. It ends with a case study: an examination of the so-called "wall of separation between Church and State" that characterizes the U.S.--one of the few industrialized liberal democracies where public confessions of religious sentiment continue to play such an profoundly important political role. The goal is to employ one of the theories explored in the course to consider the effects of this way of classifying, and thereby dividing up, social life--a classification that can be traced to both the US Constitution's First Amendment as well as an 1802 letter of Thomas Jefferson's, in which he wrote:

"... I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State...."

Depending how one defines religion, do "Church" and "State" refer to two distinct zones, one private and experiential while the other is public and behavioral? In other words, do the words correspond to pre-existing realms or, instead, could the classification itself be considered a public way that groups establish or construct different sorts of social spaces? The goal of this course is to sort out this very issue.

Spring 2005 course flyer (PDF)

Spring 2005 syllabus (PDF)


Apart from Plato's and Olson's books, course readings will be posted on this page as PDFs. (For further information on opening these files, see the section to the left, "About Online Readings.") Consult the syllabus to determine when we will tackle each of the following readings.

Introductory Handout (PDF)

The Problem of Definition (PDF)

Religion: Some Basics (PDF)

Handout: Plato and Eusebia (PDF)

Roland Barthes
The Death of the Author" (PDF)

Diana Eck, NPR Interview of the Diana Rehm Show, August 17, 2001 (RealPlayer required)

Diana Eck's Pluralism Project

Michel Foucault
"What is an Author?" (PDF)

Christopher Hill
"Toleration in Seventeenth-Century England: Theory and Practice" (PDF)

James Hitchcock, "Belief and Action" (PDF)

David Hollinger
"Among the Believers: The Politics of Sin and Secularism" (PDF)

Thomas Jefferson
Documents and letters concerning the "wall of separation between Church and State"
See a draft of Jefferson's letter here.

Jane Kramer (listen to a 2o minute Real Player interview with Ms. Kramer on her 2002 book, The Lone Patriot; read an excerpt)
"Letter from Europe: Taking the Veil" (PDF)

John Locke
"A Letter Concerning Toleration" (1689) (PDF)

Russell McCutcheon
"'Religion' and the Governable Self" (PDF)

Russell McCutcheon
"The Spirit of Politics and the Lust of Dogmatic Rule" (PDF)

J. R. Milton, "Locke's Life and Times" (PDF)

Mark Muesse
"Making the Strange Familiar and the Familiar Strange" (PDF). More information on Heaven's Gate can be found here.

Jonathan Z. Smith
"God Save this Honorable Court: Religion and Civic Discourse" (PDF)
Learn more about this essay, which was presented as Smith's 2003 Aronov Lecture at the University of Alabama. See also REL 490 which examines Smith's work in detail.

U.S. Supreme Court Cases on Religion and the Civic Space

Abington Township v. Schempp (1963) or see the PDF version: part 1 and part 2

Church of Lukumi v. the City of Hialeah (1992) or see the PDF version

Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) or see the PDF version