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Richard Parker

Lecturer in Public Policy

“Religion” is one of the most powerful--yet least understood--forces in American public life. Two centuries ago the U.S population was predominantly white, from the United Kingdom, and 90% Protestant Christian; today America is multicultural, multiracial, and less than 50% Protestant. Yet, unique among advanced nations, Americans still remain highly religious – almost 90% say they “believe in God”. Moreover, amidst its diversity, distinct and stable religious/cultural/racial/regional "blocs" persist, with patterns of personal beliefs and political values that influence everything from where we live and who we marry, to our policy debates and our presidential choices. "Why?" and "how?" are the questions we'll try to answer. We'll look at America's migration and settlement patterns, why some denominations have grown while others have declined, and how issues -- from 19th century struggles over slavery's abolition, temperance, public education, and women's suffrage, right on up to today's fiercely-fought quarrels about race, homosexuality, abortion, welfare reform, economic justice, and the environment-- have all been (and are being) consciously and unconsciously shaped by Americans' religious identities and values. We'll also examine whether and how, with the sudden recent rise of the so-called “nones” (those who don’t identify with any organized religion) that history of “religion”'s influence is coming to an end -- and why and what might replace it. Whether you plan a career in public life or just want to understand more deeply what shapes our public debates, this course opens up a "hidden" side of America's history, politics, and economic, social, and cultural relations in ways that few Americans themselves understand.