ENGL 200 E: Reading Literary Forms

Secularism and Religion in Amer. Literature and Culture

Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 1:30pm - 2:20pm
CDH 125
Denise Grollmus
Denise Grollmus

Syllabus Description:


Adi Nes, Untitled (The Last Supper Before Going Out to Battle), 1999

Adi Nes, Untitled (The Last Supper Before Going Out to Battle), 1999 


Instructor: Denise Grollmus                                                                    

Office Location: PDL A11-C        

Contact: grolld@uw.edu                                                                        

Office Hours: TTh 3-4:00 or by appointment                                                                    

Class Website: https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1138883

Classroom/Time: CDH 125 MTWTh 1:30-2:20


* For course readings (and the syllabus), visit the MODULES page

* To post your weekly reflections and to submit your papers, visit the ASSIGNMENTS page

* Visit ANNOUNCEMENTS for reading questions/guides and any other course updates, including revised homework assignments and due dates 

* For the full course schedule, with assigned readings, download Grollmus_English200E_Syllabus_spring17.docx .  


Course Description:

While some would describe the United States as a Christian nation, others understand it as a discretely secular society. Neither of them is wrong—but neither is right, either. First, we must ask the question: what do we mean by the term “secular?” Though “secular” is often represented as being the opposite of “religious,” recent scholarship in the humanities has convincingly argued that this is a false dichotomy and that both secular and religious thought are complexly interrelated. In fact, it is often at the points where these two seemingly competing forces meet that American culture(s) emerge(s). Some even argue that secularism, itself, is a sort of religion. In this class, we’ll be focused not only on trying to define “secular” and “religious,” but we’ll also think about the ways in which secular and religious discourses have collectively shaped and reshaped American culture(s) since the colonial era. First, we’ll consider how a plurality of faiths (including secularity and rationalism) collided in the New World—a legacy from which we’ll trace the founding of the nation, the philosophies that undergirded the concept of the separation between church and state and human rights, as well as the institution of slavery and the numerous procedures used to marginalize various groups. We’ll also look at the ways in which both religious and secular thought played roles in dominant and emergent cultures. Religion has been used as both a disciplinary tool of the powerful and a tool of resistance for numerous social, political, and cultural movements throughout history—movements that not only reshaped our political life, but also how we thought about being human. Throughout our investigation, we’ll be focused on the ways in which secular and religious discourses merge, diverge, compete, and coalesce throughout history and how these various meetings points have shaped social, cultural, political, and even biological life in the context of the United States.

Our study will be focused around an eclectic collection of cultural artifacts, from sermons and legal transcripts to films and novels. Not only will we read these texts to investigate the historical contexts in which they were made, but we will also investigate how these important texts helped shape their cultures. Our focus will be on how these texts use religious and secular discourses to make claims about how the world is and how it should be. Our readings will also be accompanied by critical scholarship meant to help us think through the stakes and legacies of these various works and the moments from which they emerged. This is a W-credit course, so you will be asked to complete 20-25 pages of writing, 10-15 pages of which will be high stakes graded assignments. 


By the end of this course, you might find yourself with more questions than answers—and that’s a good thing! Our goal is not to find perfect answers, but even better questions. Here is a list of questions I would like us to engage throughout the course. The hope is that, as a class, we will come up with even more compelling and specific questions as we move along:

  1. How do we define “secular,” religious,” and “culture?” Is there just one “secular,” one “religion,” and “one” culture in America? To what are we referring when we say “American culture?”
  2. Are secularism and religion opposites or do they exist in more complicated, non-binary relations? How so?
  3. How have secular and religious thought worked together to shape our national identity?
  4. At what points do secular and religious thought come together and at which points do they depart? What were the effects of these meetings and departures on American life?
  5. Where can we identify the inheritances of religious belief and practices on secular thought?
  6. How has secular thought revised the contours of religious practice and belief?
  7. How has religion informed secular concepts of race, sexuality, gender, class, and ethnicity and vice versa?
  8. Are we living in a secular age, a post-secular age or neither?

 Required Texts:

Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self (1902)

James Baldwin, Go Tell It On The Mountain (1953) 

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2008) 

Robert Eggers (dir.), The Witch (2016), available for rent on iTunes and Amazon (free if you have Prime)

- All other readings are available on the Modules Page.

Course Goals

  1. To be able to contextualize the topics and literary materials covered, historically, politically, and/or culturally.
  1. To be able to approach, discuss, and write about literary texts and/or cultural artifacts from a range of perspectives.
  2. To understand literature as useful for supporting thinking and writing—including the ability to perform effective close readings/analyses of cultural artifacts in service of broader arguments.
  3. To be able to put primary texts in conversation with secondary texts, with other academic disciplines, and with lived experiences.
  4. To develop fluency with academic writing through frequent and varied writing tasks. 

Coursework and Assessment:

Students are expected to complete all the readings for each class, to come prepared to discuss actively, and to turn in written work on time and according to assignment guidelines. The course will center on lectures and class discussions with readings playing a key role in establishing a thorough understanding of the material. Understanding the issues the readings raise will be key to success in the course. Furthermore, our class will only be as good as your participation in it.


Class Participation (free writes, quizzes, group work, peer review)          


Weekly Reflections                                                                                            




Final Paper                                                                                                          



Free Writes

At the start of each class, you will respond to a prompt about that day’s readings in an in-class free write. These brief free writes are meant to help generate discussion and will be collected at the end of each class. You can either email them to me at the end of class or turn them in hard copy—however you prefer. In-class free writes cannot be made up and are used to determine your participation grade. These are graded as C/NC and will make up a good portion of your participation grade.


I give quizzes occasionally (and without warning) as an incentive to complete reading assignments. The stronger the evidence that students are not completing the reading assignments, the more quizzes I will give. Quiz grades are factored into your particpation grade and will be based on reading comprehension.

Weekly Reflections

Each week, you will be responsible for writing AT LEAST 250 words in which you engage a prompt concerning that week’s readings, lectures, discussions, and themes. These reflections will be due on Canvas every Friday by midnight, unless otherwise noted. You must include at least two direct quotes from the reading in each response, as well as refer to things we discussed in class that helped shape your thinking. These reflections are meant to help you engage your critical analysis of the texts and concepts with which we are working. They are also meant to help you generate ideas and content for your midterm and final papers. Late reflections will not be accepted unless I’ve agreed to give you an extension. Each will be worth 10 points, for a total of 100 points, and will account for 25% of your grade. On the Thursday before your first reflection is due, I’ll hand out a detailed prompt with the grading rubric. 

Midterm Paper

For your midterm paper, you will compose an essay between 1000-1500 words (roughly 4-6 pages, double spaced, 12 pt Times New Roman font, 1” margins on all sides). I will hand out a detailed writing prompt for the midterm during week four. Your midterm paper is due by midnight Monday, May 1.

Final Paper

At the end of the course, you will be asked to submit a final paper, between 2200 and 2600 words (roughly 7-10 pages, double spaced, 12 pt Times New Roman font, 1” margins on all sides). You will need to have at least one primary text of which you do a close reading and analysis that supports your major claim, which should address one of the central questions of our course. You should include no less than three critical sources. I will pass out a hand out in week seven with the specific guidelines for your final paper, for which you must also submit a 300-400 word proposal during week nine. Your final paper is due by midnight Wednesday, June 7 during exams week.


Your midterm and final papers are graded on the university’s four-point scale. Your final course grade will also be submitted to the registrar according to the UW's 4.0 scale.  If you ever have questions about your grade, come see me during my office hours.

Class Policies

Classroom Conduct

In accordance with the University’s Student Code of Conduct, your enrollment at UW is contingent upon the way you conduct yourself in a classroom setting. This means that you must respect the rights, privileges and property of others, and you must refrain from any behavior that would disrupt or interfere with our class. Disruptive behavior is any behavior that distracts others and disrupts their learning environment or threatens their sense of safety. If someone engages in disruptive behavior, they will receive a warning. If that warning is not heeded, then the student may be reported to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, which may result in one’s removal from the class. Most importantly, I have a zero tolerance rule for hate speech. According to the American Bar Association, hate speech is “any speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” Hate speech is grounds for dismissal from my classroom not only because it is violent, threatening, and harassing in nature, but also because it violates the purpose and framework of this course, which is anti-racist in nature. Hate speech of any kind is, therefore, considered a violent disruption and/or interference with the class itself. Furthermore, I encourage anyone who feels threatened or intimidated by another student in this class to come directly to me so that I can handle the situation accordingly.

Technology Policy

I’m a big fan of using technology in the classroom. We’ll be looking at a lot of videos in this class, as well as using Canvas and Google Docs to support our work. To that end, you are encouraged to bring your laptops and other devices to help you access online materials. However, I do ask that you do your best to refrain from using your computer for other purposes while we are in class, whether that’s texting, using social media, or doing work for another class. This is largely based on trust—I trust you to do the right thing. Consider this your warning. If that trust is violated, I will say so aloud and your participation grade will be severely affected, because you do know better. I do understand that stuff comes up even when you are in class—an urgent phone call, text, or email. In that case, excuse yourself to the hallway to deal with any pressing issues so as not to distract the rest of the class.

Attendance Policy

Your regular attendance is required and your participation grade will be lowered for poor attendance via missed quizzes and free writes. Please communicate with me about your absences as much as possible. If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to get the assignments, class notes, and course changes from a classmate. If you miss class on a day that written work is due, you are still expected to turn your work in on time. In-class work cannot be made up.

Late Policy

Be sure to manage your time wisely and anticipate upcoming deadlines, which are all listed on the course schedule. And always come talk to me if you are struggling to keep up with the fast pace of the class. I’m happy to help in any way I can. I also give extensions, but only if you ask me 48 hours BEFORE the due date.

Office Hours

I hold office hours in Padelford, room A-11C (on level “LL” in the EWP Offices), every Tuesday and Thursday, 3-4 pm or by appointment. If my office hours don’t work for you, email me or come see me after class to set up an appointment. Office hours are a great way to get extra feedback on how you’re doing in the class, to let me know what is/isn’t working about the course, and to work through some of your ideas for papers. The better I get to know you on an invidiual level, the better I’ll understand your interests and be better able to guide you and help you. Office hours are voluntary, but highly encouraged.

University Policies and Resources

Academic Integrity Clause

Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else's ideas or writing as your own. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people's thoughts and writing--as long as you cite them. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any piece of writing in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review.

Complaints Clause

If you have any concerns about the course or your instructor, please see the instructor about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the instructor or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Colette Moore, at cvmoore@uw.edu.


If you need accommodation of any sort, please let me know so that I can work with the UW Disability Resources for Students Office (DRS) to provide what you require. This syllabus is available in large print, as are other class materials. More information about accommodation may be found at http://www.washington.edu/students/drs/.

Campus Safety

Preventing violence is everyone's responsibility. If you're concerned, tell someone.

–Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.

–Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.

–Don't walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).

–Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up online at www.washington.edu/alert.

For more information visit the Safe Campus website at www.washington.edu/safecampus.

Writing Centers

If you want extra help on any of the writing you do in this class, I highly suggest going to one of the UW’s writing centers. You may also receive extra credit for going to the writing center, worth one missed writing reflection, free write, or quiz. In order to do so, you must get a signature from your tutor (along with date and time), and then write a 250 word reflection on what you discussed in your session, what help you got, and how you used that help in order to improve/revise/write the assignment in question.  


Center for Learning and Undergraduate Enrichment

Website: depts.washington.edu/clue


Odegaard Writing & Research Center

Website: depts.washington.edu/owrc




Mon 3/27

Intro to the Course



Tue 3/28

The Current Conversation: Rethinking Secularism

    Introduction to Rethinking Secularism, PDF on Canvas


Wed 3/29

The Current Conversation:

The Problem of the Postsecular

    Tracy Fessenden, “The Problem of the Postsecular,” American Literary History (2014), PDF on Canvas


Thur 3/30

The Current Conversation:

Secular Conditions of Belief

    Charles Taylor, “Introduction,” A Secular Age (2007), PDF on Canvas

    Taylor, “Buffered and Porous Selves,” link on Canvas

    Canvas Discussion Post Due by noon Friday




Mon 4/3

Indigenous Knowledge

(“We Know Where We Come From”)

    Ann Finkbeiner, “The Great Quake and the Great Drowning,” link on Canvas 

    Kennewick Man Stories, link on Canvas


Tue 4/4

Indigenous Knowledge

(“We Know Where We Come From”)

    Leslie Marmon Silko, poetry excerpts from Ceremony, PDF on Canvas

    Suzanne Austgen, “Leslie Marmon Silko and the Effects of White Contact on Pueblo Myth and Ritual,” link on Canvas


Wed 4/5

The “New World” Narrative

(“Shining City Upon a Hill”)

    John Winthrop, “A Modell of Christian Charity” PDF on Canvas

    Gamble, “In Search of a City on a Hill,” PDF on Canvas


Thu 4/6

Worlds Collide

    Excerpt from Increase Mathers, A Brief History of Warr [sic] With the Indians, PDF on Canvas

    Wei Zhu, “The Forgotten Story of the Flushing Remonstrance” link on Canvas

    Olaudah Equiano, “Traditional Ebo Religion and Culture,” PDF on Canvas

    Canvas Discussion Post Due by noon Friday




Mon 4/10

Review Day 



Tue 4/11

Review Day 



Wed 4/12

A Man of God vs A Man of Flesh

  Jonathan Edwards, Excerpts from “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton,” PDF on Canvas

    Benjamin Franklin, excerpt from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, PDF on Canvas

    Daniel Howe, “Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Problem of Human Nature” PDF on Canvas



Thu 4/13

Church and State 

Thomas Jefferson, “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” link on Canvas

    The Declaration of Independence, link on Canvas

    Jason Bivins, “Religion and Politics” PDF on Canvas


    Canvas Discussion Post Due by noon Friday




Mon 4/17

Slavery and Religion 

Cotton Mather, The Negro Christianized PDF on Canvas

    Thomas Jefferson, excerpt from Notes on the State of Virginia link Canvas

    Frederick Douglass, “Slaveholding Religion and the Christianity of Christ,” PDF on Canvas





Science, Religion and Race

Lee Baker, “History and Theory of a Racialized Worldview,” in From Savage to Negro, PDF on Canvas

    Terence Keele, “Introduction,” from The Religious Pursuit of Race: Christianity, Modern Science, and the Perception of Human Difference, PDF on Canvas



Wed 4/19

Science, Religion and Race

  Of One Blood, Chapters I-V (1-44)    


Thu 4/20

Science, Religion and Race


Of One Blood, Chapters VI-X (44-86) 

    Canvas Discussion Post Due by noon Friday




Mon 4/24

Science, Religion and Race


Of One Blood, Chapters XI-XV (87-127) 


Tue 4/25

Science, Religion and Race


Of One Blood, Chapters XVI-XX (129-171)


Wed 4/26

Science, Religion and Race


Of One Blood, Chapters XXI-end (173-193) 


Thu 4/27

Religious Experiences


Susan Gillman, “Pauline Hopkins and the Occult: African-American Revisions of Nineteenth-Century Sciences,” PDF on Canvas

    Canvas Discussion Post Due by noon Friday




Mon 5/1


W.E.B DuBois, “Of the Faith of the Fathers,” The Souls of Black Folk (1903), link on Canvas

    William James, Excerpts from The Variety of Religious Experience, PDF on Canvas



Tue 5/2



Go Tell It On The Mountain, Part I


Wed 5/3



Go Tell It On The Mountain, “Florence’s Prayer”  


Thu 5/4



Go Tell It On The Mountain, “Gabriel’s Prayer”  

    Canvas Discussion Post Due by noon Friday




Mon 5/8



Go Tell It On The Mountain, “Elizabeth’s Prayer”


Tue 5/9


Go Tell It On The Mountain, Part III


Wed 5/10

Guest Speaker: Rachel Arteaga

   Arteaga readings, on Canvas 


Thu 5/11

A World of Wonders


Excerpts from Cotton Mather, PDF on Canvas

    Ellie Schecht, “Cotton Mather, the Salem Witch Trials, and Our Miserable Present,” link on Canvas 


    Canvas Discussion Post Due by noon Friday


Denise out of town for conference, No Class This Week. See "The Witch" under Assignments for more. 


Mon 5/15


Watch The Witch


Quiz on Canvas Due By Midnight

Tue 5/16




David Hall, “A World of Wonders,” PDF on Canvas


Short Reflection on Canvas Due By Midnight

Wed 5/17


 Anthony Lane, “Spellbound,” The New Yorker, link on Canvas


Short Reflection on Canvas Due By Midnight

Thu 5/18




Short Reflection on Canvas Due By Midnight

Final Paper Proposal Due by midnight Friday




Mon 5/22


    Justin Neuman, “Reading Islam,” PDF on Canvas


Tue 5/23


    The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Chapters 1-3


Wed 5/24

    The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Chapters 4-6


Thu 5/25


    The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Chapters 7-9

Canvas Discussion Post Due by noon Friday




Mon 5/29

NO CLASS—Memorial Day



Tue 5/30


    The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Chapters 10-12



Wed 5/31


    Pick One of Two Readings 

Rough Draft of Final Paper due at midnight

Thu 6/1

Last Day of Class/Peer Review


Peer Review and Course Evaluations

Final Canvas Discussion Post due by Friday at midnight 

Catalog Description: 
Covers techniques and practice in reading and enjoying literature in its various forms: poetry, drama, prose fiction, and film. Examines such features of literary meanings as imagery, characterization, narration, and patterning in sound and sense. Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 10:10pm