English REL 210A - Winter, 2019

Class Information

Instructor: Freeman, Elizabeth
Time: W 12:10-3:00
Location: 248 Voorhies


    This course will examine several religious movements in the late 18th and 19th century United States that emerged from the Second Great Awakening—the Shakers, the Mormons, the Oneidians, and the Spiritualists—especially as they were framed by their detractors. We will be particularly invested in how these groups reimagined sexuality and kinship, how they eventually staked their claim to citizenship and acceptance through adhering to white and heterosexual gender norms, and how U.S. secularism operated by casting mainline Protestantism as common sense and other religions as “too religious,” meaning racially and sexually suspect. Beginning with a background examination of the Second Great Awakening and the “Burned Over District” in upstate New York in the early 19th century, we will then move back in time to the 1780s migration of the Shakers and their bid for whiteness through liturgical dance; the rise of Mormonism as a theory of the unfallen body and the Mormons’ attempts to distance themselves from Native American kinship forms; the Oneida Community’s transformation from advocates of “complex marriage” to sellers of bridal silverware, and the Spiritualists’ gender-bending, homoerotic, and interracial theories of transcorporeality. While we will explore some of the theology of each of these groups, we will be most interested in them as threats to the process by which the mainstream United States, tightly winding civic life to Protestant tenets while claiming not to establish a church, also constructed secularism as a sexual and racial project. Reading will be interdisciplinary, including theology, literary fiction, secondary historical accounts, theories of secularism, and visual images. Students may write papers keyed to their home discipline.


    In-class presentation: 20%
    Discussion: 30%
    2 conference-length or one article-length paper(s), 50%


    TBA (likely PDFs via Canvas)