The Fourth "R": Religion and American Schools

Course Description

The Constitution guarantees that the US will have no official state church, but it also guarantees that all citizens have the right to express their religion. These two clauses do not always sit easily next to each other. Both emphasize religious freedom, but what happens when people’s desire to express their religious commitments comes into conflict with American civic life?

One site for this ongoing inquiry has been American public schools. Can students pray in school? What if it only happens during non-class time? Can schools lease their buildings to religious organizations? What about teaching evolution? Or the Bible as literature? Do students have to say the Pledge of Allegiance, with its “under God” clause? These questions have been raised over and over again as private citizens, religious communities, school districts, and the state have sought to figure out how to formulate its commitment to religious freedom.

In this seminar, we will explore the contentious relationship between church and state as it has played out in American schools. Through sociological, legal, and historical sources, we will examine both the unfolding history of this relationship and we will attend to some of the larger questions it raises about religion, freedom, spirituality, and what it means to learn.

You will have the opportunity to conduct original research into specific court cases that have shaped the history of church-state relationships. At issue in these projects will be the mostly-implicit definition of education that hides in the legal language about where the state ends and where religion begins. You will have the opportunity to read deeply and interpretively across a range of sources including Supreme Court rulings, newspaper reports, and other contemporary accounts.

Course Details

Workload varies with units taken. 

Stanford Introductory Seminars are small, discussion-based classes. Therefore, enrollment is limited. Preference is given to rising Stanford first- and second-year students who haven't had the opportunity to take an Introductory Seminar previously. A portion of seats are open to students participating in Summer Session. Interested students may self-enroll in Axess whenever there is an open space.

Cross-Listings: EDUC 117N, AMSTUD 117N

Syllabus Link

None available.
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