Amandine Barb

Core areas

Law and Religion, Religious Studies, Religious Education, Political Science, American Studies

Current research project

Governing Religious Diversity in a (Post)Secular Age: Teaching about Religion in American Public Schools

Since the first half of the 20th century, American public schools had mostly avoided religion as an object of study – a trend reinforced with the strict secularization of public education by the Supreme Court in the decades following the 1940s. Even though teaching about it was explicitly authorized by the Court, religion was generally discarded as either too controversial or as irrelevant for the education of democratic citizens. Starting in the late 1980s, however, in a context of diversification and politicization of faith, State Boards of Education introduced new courses about religion, which became progressively widespread in public schools across the country. In every US state today, World History and World Geography curricula require students to learn about the history and traditions of major religions, while US History courses include references to important religious figures and movements.

My project thus seeks to understand why and how religion, which had been all but removed from American public schools, has come to be (re)considered a legitimate educational and civic requirement over the past three decades. The introduction of courses on religion raises therefore the broader question of the growing (re)engagement of faith by the secular state, through new policies aimed at managing and regulating religious diversity. Through the study of teaching about religion, however, my project also aims to explore how the changes in the American religious landscape (e.g. the rise in the number of non-Christian minorities or the growing weight of religious conservatives) have impacted the conceptions of collective identity conveyed in public schools. It aims to analyze the extent to which recent controversies on this issue reflect tensions between competing civic imaginaries and disagreements as to how religion should fit within them.

Background

I received my PhD in Political Science at Sciences Po in Paris. My first book is titled Between God and Caesar. A Political History of Religious Accommodations in the United States (Entre Dieu et César. Histoire politique des accommodements religieux aux États-Unis, Aix-Marseille University Press, Series on “Law and Religion”, 2019). It analyzes how, against the backdrop of immigration and growing confessional diversity, American courts and lawmakers have dealt, since the colonial period, with conflicts between law and religion, and how they have responded to claims for accommodations raised by religious individuals and groups. Between 2014 and 2018, I was a researcher at the Faculty of Theology at Humboldt University in Berlin. I have also spent several years studying and conducting research in the United States, most recently as a visiting scholar at New York University.