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Third book for politics professor focuses on the constitution, first amendment and religious freedoms and the question of a secular society

Photo courtesy of Dennis Goldford

For one Drake professor, questions and discussions in his classroom led to the creation of his third book.

Dennis Goldford, professor of politics at Drake University, recently published his book, “The Constitution of Religious Freedom: God, Politics, and the First Amendment.” He chose this topic because it parallels his interests and his classes at Drake.

He said that the best way to learn something is to agree to teach a course about it.

Goldford said many of his ideas come from questions that students ask in his classes.

The issues covered in Goldford’s most recent book originally came from the question: Is secular society possible? Goldford decided that was the wrong way to frame the question, and he changed it to: Is there American political order, and does it constitute religious community itself, or does it allow for and encourage all sorts of individuals and religions but is not itself a religious community?

After writing the book, he came to a conclusion about the religious portions of the constitution.

“If you consider carefully what it means to have the religious clauses in the constitution, then you have to conclude that from the perspective of the religion clauses that religious identity inheres in the individuals, not in the nation,” Goldford said.

Drake is an example of this. Campus contains students, faculty and staff with different religious identities, but it does not currently have its own religious identity.

Goldford’s first book centered around the U.S. Constitution. He co-authored his second book with a colleague about the Iowa caucuses. He has always had a mixed interest political and religious subjects.

Goldford said one of his favorite quotes is, “I write to find out what I think,” which he says may have come from the French Enlightenment.

Goldford came to Drake from Pennsylvania in 1985. He wanted to be in a capital city, and he enjoyed being at a private university. He is an observer of the caucuses and is a political analyst for KCCI. He currently teaches political theory and constitutional law courses.

The only experience Goldford has had with creative writing was around the year 2000 at KUNI Iowa Public Radio in Cedar Falls. He was asked if he knew much about politics and Iowa life. When he said that he did, he was asked to participate in a chain novel. A chain novel is a story told in chapters, but a different author writes each chapter. Goldford said he had a lot of fun with it and that it was a completely different style of writing to him.

Goldford also said that he carries a voice recorder around in his pocket so that even if he is walking his dog and an idea comes to him, he can just turn it on and “write down” his idea.

“Anytime you think of something, write it down,” Goldford said. “The key to being a writer is being a reader. And the key to being a reader is being a thinker.”

Goldford said that his students believe he is a tough professor. He advises his students to write thoughtfully.

“Write down the answer, not just anything you think of, and expect me to see what I’m looking for,” he said. “The writing makes you think about it.”


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