Religion and American Community


This curriculum guide is designed to explore the diverse ways in which religion has influenced the course of American history at the national, state, and local levels.  The guide provides sample curriculum materials that may be used at different grade levels.

Each unit focuses on a specific time period and is organized in outline form.  Key themes and ideas form the major points of the outline.  A brief narrative accompanies most themes or ideas, providing a context.  Themes and sub-themes are further divided into sections on the United States, Indiana, and Indianapolis.  Each section includes recommended readings, and suggested resources such as archival collections, historic sites, museums, and Web sites. The sections for Indiana and Indianapolis include selected documents that illustrate how national themes were expressed at the state and local levels.

We hope this curriculum guide contributes to a larger appreciation for the role of religion in our national, state, and local histories. Explore themes by time period and geographic region here.


This project began under the auspices of the Indiana Association of Historians, with the assistance of the Indiana Humanities Council, to explore ways of improving classroom presentations on the role of religion in American history. Throughout the course of the project, I have received valuable guidance and assistance from numerous individuals, for which I am most grateful.  I wish to recognize first and foremost Darrel Bigham, professor of history at the University of Southern Indiana, and Nancy Conner, program director at the Indiana Humanities Council, for their vision and leadership in conceptualizing the initial project and laying the groundwork for its continuation.  James P. Wind, former program officer in the Religion Division at The Lilly Endowment and now executive director of The Alban Institute, recognized the work of The Polis Center in its study of religion in Indianapolis and encouraged its involvement in this project. Special thanks go to David J. Bodenhamer, director of The Polis Center, for providing funds from the Religion and Urban Culture project to support this initiative.

Many others played important roles in the development of the curriculum materials. Thomas Marvin, professor of American Studies at IUPUI, and Sheryl Dixon Vanderstel, independent historian and curriculum consultant, created the initial outline of themes for the curriculum sections. Sheryl also identified the primary sources utilized in the curriculum. Jeff Duvall, a Ph.D. history student at Purdue University and former graduate intern in The Polis Center, provided invaluable research assistance throughout the project. Mary Anthrop, social studies/history teacher at Central Catholic High School in Lafayette, Indiana, reviewed the sections and prepared study questions and classroom exercises. A special word of thanks goes to the group of teachers and curriculum specialists who evaluated working prototypes of the curriculum and provided valuable advice on the refinement of the materials: Claudia Hoone, Indianapolis Public Schools #58; Sharon Smith, Indianapolis Public Schools Key Learning Community; Dr. James Fadely, St. Richard’s School; Dr. Victor Smith, Indiana Urban Schools Association; and Dr. C. Frederick Risinger, School of Education, Indiana University.