God in America Questions
- choose 3 of 6 episodes :http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/view
As you answer, keep in mind the ideas of context and perception.
For extra credit answer any of the questions.
For full assignment points - If an episode has more than 3 questions, choose 3 to answer, answer more for extra credit.
What role did religion play in the cultural misunderstandings and colonial relations of Europeans and Native peoples in the New World? How did the religious worldviews of the Europeans and Indians differ?
What is religion? How do you define it? Is it a matter of doctrines, creeds, rituals and traditions, as it was for Catholic Spain? Is it an all-encompassing way of seeing and experiencing the natural world, as it was for the Native inhabitants encountered by the Franciscans?
The American story is many things, including the story of "us in relationship with God," says religion professor Stephen Prothero at the beginning of this episode. At the end, he compares the American story to the Exodus story in the Bible. Why do you think the Puritans saw themselves as a New American Adam and Eve -- new people with a new identity? How was the American experience of freedom and liberty like the story of the Exodus? What made Americans see themselves as "chosen people"?
The intellectual Thomas Jefferson and the evangelical Baptists of Virginia set aside their differences and together defend a belief they shared: the right to worship freely. Why does Jefferson argue for religious liberty? Why do the Baptists? What are the similarities and differences in their views?
What does the First Amendment say about religion? How do its words contribute to sustaining American religion? What do you think Thomas Jefferson's famous phrase "wall of separation between church and state" means?
Religion professor Stephen Prothero says Baptists "were seen as a significant threat" in colonial Virginia. Why? How did they test religious tolerance in America? Explain why or why not you think peace requires religious tolerance.
What insights do the stories about religious liberty in this episode offer for understanding religion in America today?
How would you describe President Lincoln's political and spiritual achievements? How would you characterize him religiously? How would you describe Lincoln's God? How did his idea of God change over the course of the war? What surprises you about Lincoln's religious views and moral vision? Compare them with those of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Themes of sacrifice and redemption were important during the Civil War. What did it mean then to understand death and suffering in a theological way? How and why did the war come to take on a transcendent meaning, or a "holy quality," as David Blight calls it?
Do you agree that America was and is a chosen nation, special in the eyes of God? In 1861, on the way to his inauguration in Washington, Lincoln said in a speech: "I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle." What do you think he meant by "almost chosen people"? Compare Lincoln's words with Stephen Prothero's concluding observation that "we have not achieved what we should have achieved" and that America's special destiny is "always out in front of us."
Jewish history professor Jeffrey Gurock says some Jewish immigrants to America wanted "to act and look and behave like the Protestant majority without abandoning their faith." In what ways did 19th-century America alter the religious identity of immigrants, and in what ways did immigrants alter the American religious landscape?
America raised questions about religious authority and leadership for immigrant religions as "faith pulled in one direction, America in the other," according to Jonathan Sarna. How did Rabbi Wise try to incorporate American values into his understanding of his Jewish identity? What did he mean when he said "in religion only we are Jews, in all other respects we are American citizens"?
At the end of the 19th century, people were reading the Bible differently than they had during the time of the Civil War. What forces in society and the culture at large contributed to this change? Why was what Charles Briggs said and did considered to be so dangerous?
The response to modernism and the Scopes Trial also forced a split between liberals and conservatives, and created divisions and quarrels among Protestants themselves, as well as among Catholics and Jews, that still persist. What impact have those ideological fissures within religious groups had on them and on religion in America, and in what ways are the divisions still manifest in current debates over social issues?
Why did religious conservatives withdraw from American culture and politics after the Scopes Trial? What happened to fundamentalism? What were the great divides that dominated the country at the conclusion of the trial?
How would you describe the role the Cold War played in the convergence of American religion and politics? How did religious and political leaders use Protestant Christianity to counter fears of communism, Catholics, and the national insecurities of the time?
Professor Stephen Prothero speaks of a "marriage" between religion and politics after World War II. Philip Goff says both Dwight Eisenhower and Billy Graham "marry" religion and democracy. Do you agree? Could the same also be said of Martin Luther King Jr.? What evidence or examples of such a close relationship between religion and democracy do you find in American history, in this episode, and in other episodes in the series? Philip Goff also says "religion is a sign of democracy" and "democracy is, in fact, a public expression basically of a deeply felt religion." What do you think? Is there a contradiction between the marriage of religion and democracy and the separation of church and state?
How is the First Amendment tested in the stories in this episode? What is at issue in the two Supreme Court cases that are highlighted? Why did the court rule as it did? What events and circumstances in the larger world encouraged the court to move in the direction of protecting religious minorities?
Why did some Protestants fear the prospect of a Catholic president? What did John F. Kennedy do to address their concerns, and what did he say to try to convince them otherwise? What relevance do you think the debates about religion in the 1960 presidential campaign have for politics today?
Analyze the moral vocabulary of Martin Luther King Jr. and the way he uses words such as freedom, righteousness, justice, and community. What meaning does he give them? What religious reasoning does he employ? How is his language different from the political discourse of the time?
"Throughout American history the main story we've gravitated toward has been the Exodus story," says Professor Stephen Prothero. What are the themes of the Exodus story, and where do you see them played out in the history of America and in the episodes of God in America?
A commitment to religiously rooted nonviolence was arguably the civil rights movement's most powerful tool for social reform. What became of nonviolent change after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., and why do nonviolent strategies seem to have disappeared?
The life, death and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., says Andrew Young, "point to the fact that this is a religious universe." What do you think he means by this? What is he saying about the significance of religion for the civil rights movement? How did the civil rights movement demonstrate the public power of religion in America?
Why did conservative evangelicals reject political engagement for decades, and why did they re-enter politics?
What role do you see non-Christian religions and new immigrant faith communities playing in American politics and public life? What evidence of their involvement do you observe in your own community? How has the presence of Muslims, Latinos, and Hispanic Catholics in particular influenced the American religious and political landscape?
Has religion in America changed since 9/11? How?
Do you think America is a Christian nation? In the midst of great religious diversity how does the country find national unity?
Do you think there is a relationship between faith, citizenship, and a sense of political responsibility? How does religion guide your political choices or your thinking about social issues?
Do you see evidence of a "God gap" in American politics? What changes have there been in Democratic outreach to religious voters in the past few years?
Religion has always been central to the national narrative and to America's sense of mission at home and abroad. How important do you think it will remain to the American story? What religious directions do you imagine the American story might take in the years ahead?