Digital Classroom Resources: The History of Religion in the United States
Desiree Fedrick and M. Omar Siddiqi
The American Historian has compiled a list of digital resources on the history of religion in the United States. We hope the list will be useful for educators as well as for researchers.
19th-Century Mormon Article Newspaper Index and 19th-Century Publications about the Book of Mormon
Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library Digital Collections
The Harold B. Lee library at Brigham Young University includes a number of digital archives geared especially toward members of the LDS church. These two archives provide primary sources of more interest to a general audience. These sources indicate the kind of reactions non-Mormons had toward the emergence of the new religion in the United States. Students and teachers can use these documents to answer questions about the place of faith and difference within American culture in the mid-nineteenth century.
African-American Religion: A Documentary History Project (AARDOC)
AARDOC includes useful essays that consider African American religious history from the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade through the end of the twentieth century. The essays divide African American hisotry into three distinct eras and provide an overview of religious meaning within each era.
American Jewish Historical Society Essential Readings
The reading list provided by the American Jewish Historical Society is both wide-ranging and accessible. The list is tailored toward the curious non-specialist. The list provides a good starting point for advanced high school students or college students interested in Jewish contributions to American society.
Center for Jewish History Digital Collections
The Center for Jewish History brings together primary sources from a number of digital databases from partner institutions into one navigable omnibus website. The amount of information here is impressive, but mining that information requires some working knowledge of American Jewish history. To deploy this resource in the classroom, teachers will have to determine beforehand the specific content they wish to show to students. The database may be too expansive to allow students, particularly those at the secondary level, to explore on their own. The databases do not focus on specific questions of theology but appreciate the panorama of American Jewish life from the Revolutionary Era to the present day.
Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture
Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)
The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture conducts summer seminars in religious studies for secondary school teachers funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Center website, directed toward an audience of educators, includes syllabi for both college-level and K–12 instruction. The former are written by professors who provided scholarly grounding for the NEH summer seminars, while the latter represent final projects conducted by conference participants. The collection of syllabi is not nearly as extensive as that found through the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion website (see below), yet the syllabi do represent a variety of teaching methods for students of varied age groups.
Divining America: Religion in American History
National Humanities Center
This website, part of the TeacherServe "curriculum enrichment service" of the National Humanities Center, includes links to numerous articles dealing with various aspects of American religious history. Arranged chronologically and written by academic experts, the articles are directed toward teachers as an aid in developing specific lesson plans. Articles include "Deism and the Founding of the United States" and "The Social Gospel of the Progressive Era." Divining America also includes a separate section, entitled "Getting Back to You," where readers can submit questions to subject-matter experts.
EDSITEment! Lesson Plans
EDSITEment! is a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities and represents one of the more comprehensive lesson-plan resources for teachers of history and culture. Two sections in particular, Picturing America and We The People, focus specifically on questions of American history. Searching for the term "religion" on the main EDSITEment! lesson plan page reveals numerous lesson plans that focus on the intersection of religion and American history. Options at the top of the page allow teachers to filter results by student age level or topical subject area.
The Islam Project
The Islam Project is a community and education outreach program partially funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The project's main website includes an education section that features a concise essay outlining Islamic history, various class exercises and lesson plans, related maps, and external links.
The Material History of American Religion Project
Vanderbilt Divinity School
This website, the digital home of a project by the same name sponsored by the Lilly Endowment, provides a small yet compelling collection of digital objects and documents related to the material culture associated with American religious practice. Objects included on the website include a portable reed organ that would have been used by travelling evangelists and a description of communion tokens used by Roman Catholics in the early American period. Teachers may consider allowing students to explore the website freely, and then work with them to draw conclusions from the presented material.
PBS offers a series of well-researched and engaging documentaries covering the various aspects of the history of American religion. All documentaries are available online as streaming video.
American Experience: God in America
God in America presents the entire historical panorama of American religious history in a series of six-hour-long episodes. The only significant shortcoming of the documentary is that it begins with missionary and colonization efforts and, besides a short consideration of Pueblo Indian ritual, does not focus enough attention on Native American religious practices. The documentary continues from the moment of colonial encounter to consider religion in New England and the place of religion and religious freedom in the early republic. Religious expression during the Civil War, nineteenth-century New Light movements, and the rise of Evangelical Christianity all receive consideration.
This hour-and-a-half documentary dramatizes the efforts of early American writers, thinkers, and politicians to secure the right of freedom of religious expression. As a result, the film does not assess religious practice, but could provide a good grounding for classroom discussions of religious plurality in the United States.
The following documentaries each provide a polished, historically nuanced consideration of individual religious groups. Like First Freedom and God in America, the documentaries are available online.
The Muslim Americans
The Jewish Americans
Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly Lesson Plans
This website, a component of a PBS program, provides a variety of lesson plans dealing with topics includuding Religion and Immigration and Religion and the Civil Rights Movement. The lessons themselves have instructions for teachers and questions for students to help them organize concepts. Finally, each content area within the lesson is connected to associated McREL content standards.
Slavery and the Making of America
The Slave Experience: Religion
Slavery and the Making of America is an important documentary history project undertaken by WNET New York and PBS. The section on African American religion forms only one part of a larger project, and features a compelling collection of information including a historical overview, information about Nat Turner's Rebellion, objects of religious practice used by slaves, primary sources, and Works Progress Administration interviews of former slaves. This website features an engaging interface and a great variety of material.
Teaching with Historical Places: Religion
National Park Service
On this page, the National Park Service connects specific historical sites to important historical concepts. The religion section is only one small part of a much larger list. Following each link leads to a short overview of an specific historical site and includes a suggested lesson, as well as links to related topics.
Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion
The Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion is a project of the Lilly Endowment to encourage American theological education. It directs much of its efforts to improving theological training in particular, so many of the resources are directed toward theological and not necessarily secular education. Even still, the resources section of the website provides information helpful to teachers at the secondary and collegiate levels. Resources are grouped into three broad categories. The first category, "Scholarship for Teaching," provides general pedagogical information. The "Syllabus Collection" and "Religion on the Web" resources provide identical information, arranged differently. The former allows keyword searches for specific content, while the latter arranges material by subject headings, enabling easier browsing. This website is best used as an educator's tool in building lessons, rather than as a site to direct students for their own individual learning.
University of Florida Department of Religion Syllabi
This website provides a straightforward list of syllabi from religious studies courses taught at the university. The collection includes various syllabi directed toward American religious history, as well as ones directed more to global religious histories and practices. Although these syllabi are directed toward an audience of college students, secondary-level teachers should consider browsing the selections for ideas for their own classroom.
Desiree Fedrick is a copyediting assistant for The American Historian and the Journal of American History. M. Omar Siddiqi is an editorial assistant for The American Historian and a Ph.D. candidate in the history department at Indiana University.