Faith and American Culture

JPI 511/731

This course attempts a theological-ontological interpretation of American culture against the background, most immediately, of the Second Vatican Council and the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  The purpose is to frame the fundamental terms of a Catholic’s engagement with modernity as expressed in the history of America.  Readings for the course will be drawn from authors influential in the founding and history of American culture, as well as from significant Catholic interpretations of the culture.


Course Texts for Fall 2017

  • Francis Bacon, The New Organon, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
  • René Descartes, Discourse on Method
  • Course compendium – available from University Readers
  • Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (also available online as indicated)
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

     ***There are different translations/editions, with different formats and pagination, of Tocqueville. Below is a list of what will be read for class. There is an abundance of (inexpensive) used and new copies of this book available for purchase through Amazon; and there is a link below to an online copy (of the first English translation). The preferred translation for class is that of Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (University of Chicago, 2000).

Democracy in America  (1835/1840):
Vol. One, Part I:
Ch. 2: “Concerning Their Point of Departure . . .“ (19 pp)
Ch. 3: “Social State of the Anglo-Americans” (8 pp)
Ch. 4: “The Principle of the Sovereignty of the People in America” (3 pp)
Vol. One, Part II:
Ch. 7 “The Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and its Effects” (18 pp)
Ch. 8, “What Tempers the Tyranny of the Majority in the United States,” first two sections: “Absence of Administrative Centralization” and “The Temper of the American Legal Profession . . .” (9 pp)
Vol. Two, Part I:
Ch. 1: “Concerning the Philosophical Approach of the Americans” (5 pp)
Ch. 2: Concerning the Principal Source of Beliefs among Democratic Peoples” (4 pp)
Ch. 10: “Why the Americans are More Concerned with the Applications than with the Theory of Science” (7 pp)
Vol. Two, Part II:
Ch. 8: “How the Americans Combat Individualism by the Doctrine of Self-Interest Properly Understood” (4 pp)
Ch. 9: “How the Americans Apply the Doctrine of Self-Interest Properly Understood to Religion” (3 pp)
Ch. 19: “What Gives Almost All Americans a Preference for Industrial Callings” (4 pp) (Henry Reeve Translation, 1835; revised 1899).

Recommended: David L. Schindler and Nicholas J Healy, Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity (Eerdmans, 2015)

Associated Faculty

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