Carleigh Beriont Photo

Carleigh Beriont

Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy


“One nation under God,” “God bless America,” “don’t say gay,” “my body, my choice,” “separation of church and state”: phrases like these alert us to the influence of religion in American public life and policy. Ongoing debates about religion, politics, identity, and rights make it clear that religion is one of the most powerful forces in public life today. This course is designed to help students identify and unpack the myriad competing political commitments and policy proposals made by religious groups as well as assess the impacts of public policy on diverse religious actors.

Together, we will examine the role of religion in shaping American civic engagement and policymaking from the 17th century to the present, aiming to put contemporary events in broader historical context. In addition to reading from scholarly texts, we will consult a wide variety of primary sources, including newspaper articles, letters, speeches, survey data, and legal documents.

A key aim of this course will be to disrupt common assumptions about the relationship between religion and politics so that we can better understand the current state of affairs. Thus, we will be guided by the following questions: how can we understand the political and policy claims made by different religious groups? How can we—as individuals and as a society—manage the competing claims and commitments of different groups? And how can we act in our various capacities to live in accordance with our own values, beliefs, and commitments, however defined?

We will spend the first few weeks of the semester getting a better understanding of the history of religion and politics in the United States and the current religious, political, and policy landscape. We will then move to an examination of the role played by religious beliefs and actors in policymaking in specific areas including labor, immigration and citizenship, economics, social welfare, the penal system, foreign policy, education, and the environment.

While many of our discussions will focus on federal policy, we will also look at the impact of religious ideas and actors on policy at the state and local levels and consider the disparate impacts of policies on individuals and groups.