Last semester, for our RLST 1601 “Honors Religion in the US” course, we were tasked with creating our own class about religion in the US. We found ourselves intrigued by the Satanic religions and figured that Satanism was probably underrepresented in college-level religion courses, so why not make our own course about it?
Since we were both raised Catholic, we grew up with certain ideas surrounding the devil and Satan. However, when we came across the Church of Satan and the Satanic Temple’s websites and read through their beliefs, we found that they were actually quite reasonable, and in fact, not at all evil. Because of the misconceptions surrounding it, we wanted to use Satanism as a lens to analyze religious freedom in the United States. And so our course, “Satanism and American Society,” was born. This course would aim to tackle issues of religious freedom in America by analyzing the different ways in which the “Satanist” label is used and by examining the two major groups that self-identify as Satanists: The Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple.
Throughout this course, students would reconsider the meaning of ‘religion’ and explore how religious freedom is experienced by groups that deviate from Western religious norms. Historically, Christianity has been the dominant religion in the US and has exerted its influence over both the political and personal aspects of American society. Because Christianity is the religion with the most power in the US, the legitimacy of religions that deviate from these Christian norms is often questioned. Due to this power-imbalance, the dominant religious group, in this case Christianity, tends to be the one who gets to decide what does and what does not count as a religion. Our course on Satanism would address questions of religious freedom through the lens of Satanic religions. These religions are often misunderstood, but developing an accurate understanding of these groups would teach students to rethink the definition of religion and religious freedom in the US, as well as the use of religious symbols. Satanists represent the struggle for religious freedom and acceptance in a predominantly Christian country, and the experience of Satanists reflects the experience of other marginalized religious groups as well.
The goal of this course would be for students to gain the knowledge needed to understand and analyze the role that religion plays in the United States, and how it continues to shape our country. By looking at the two main Satanic groups in America and learning about the backlash they face as well as what they stand for, students would be able to recognize how new religious movements function in, and influence, our society.