Posts

Protected: The Public Square and the Heart of Culture War

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

The Public Square and the Heart of Culture War

Norman Lear was a central figure in American television in the 1970s. His media productions like All in the Family were deeply activist, reflecting his ideas about what kinds of dialogue and reflection were needed to preserve American society in an era of sharp divisions over social and political issues that came to be called the Culture Wars. As a voice for progressivism and liberalism, Lear articulated a powerful vision of the public square where civility was the shared root for multicultural America. In this conversation, Dr. Benji Rolsky frames the public square as the central discursive space for mid 20th century liberals, one which not only gave them great social leverage but also limited their future strategic options to respond to the emergence of the religious right as a consolidated political block starting with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Download this episode and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or YouTube. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us and consider becoming a member of our Patreon community with access to extra conversations and shorter classroom versions of our episodes. Or use our Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying books, groceries, or gifts.


The Public Square and the Heart of Culture Wars

Podcast with Benjamin Rolsky (30 March 2020).

Interviewed by David McConeghy.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at:

https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/the-public-square-and-the-heart-of-culture-wars/

David McConeghy (DM): Welcome. My name is David McConeghy. And today I’m joined by Dr Benjamin Rolsky, adjunct instructor in the History and Anthropology Department at Monmouth University, and a part-time lecturer in the Religion Department at Rutgers University. And he’s the author of a fabulous new book, The Rise and Fall of the Religious left: Politics, Television and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond, published by Columbia University Press – fresh off the publishing presses. Dr Rolsky, Benji, it’s so wonderful to have you speaking with me here, today, for the Religious Studies Project! Welcome.

Benjamin Rolsky (BR): Thank you very much for having me. I can’t wait to converse with you.

DMcC: I consumed your book rapidly, with reckless abandon! Because one of the things that really interested me is that you start out, right away, with your experiences watching television maybe of an era that was slightly before your own. And I have to say that that was not my experience, growing up. I did not watch All in the Family, I did not watch I Love Lucy. I did not watch The Mary Tyler Moore show. I was . . . I don’t want to call myself a latch-key kid, but I was the eldest and I came home by myself on the bus. And when I chose television, the television that I chose was DuckTales and Darkwing Duck, and classic kind-of cartoons. And then in the evenings, later on, it was Star Trek for me. So there’s this cultural disconnect that I felt where, like, as a person growing up in the same era with you, with access to the same materials as you, my experience was so different! And what struck me about that is that it was . . . we can have that kind-of disconnect now, in our cultural experiences. So can you talk about what it was like to kind-of be introduced to the work of Norman Lear, and how you came to see that work as valuable not only for your scholarship but also personally?

BR: Yes, sure. Absolutely. So a lot of this is obviously very biographical. So, to be honest, shows that I grew up on didn’t really include “All in the Family”. But it certainly included this moment of relevance. And that’s something that I get into a little bit in the book, in that Lear’s attempting to make television – in his mind, in his opinion – about more than just sort-of a flashing box with lights and all sorts of things going on. So my upbringing, and kind-of exposure to 1970s television – obviously I wasn’t alive when it was on, or anything. It was just something that my folks had on. And I think, in a lot of ways, my folks represent the kind-of mind-set that I’ve been thinking about for a long time which is that something like popular culture, and culture in general, can be put to work. It can be used in a didactic kind-of purpose. It’s not just . . . . . Because familiar things like The Beverly Hillbillies, The Rifleman, you know . . . TV was kind-of a wasteland. And it was literally referred to that, I think in the fifties or sixties, by some network executive. And so Lear looked across that space, and he thought to himself, “You know, I can make television do a little bit more.” And I argue that this is part of a moment that also produces things like MASH and Mary Tyler Moore – which are both pieces of artwork and art that are not just about Korea; or not just about someone who’s trying to find a job in Minneapolis, trying to make her way. So it was part of a larger sort-of moment of relevance. But then also having an understanding that . . . sort-of a progressive understanding that – not unlike Parks and Recreation, or not unlike a show like that where it’s not just about a show and what’s going on between the characters – it provides a vision. It provides a model for how people are to behave and interact with one another. One thing I kind-of miss from the seventies – and this is maybe really romantic and kind-of naive, but there was kind-of a moral sort-of centre, a singular kind-of friend who people could actually count on to do something for them: like Hawkeye, in MASH; Mary, in Mary Tyler Moore; Alex, in Taxi. And I’ve always been fascinated with that . . . or Harry T Stone in Night Court. The television of the time presented a different kind-of vision of society, and Lear was one of the most important sort-of contributors to that pattern that we continue to sort-of see today in the bad kind-of fan. You know, rooting for a Bunker-type, or a Soprano-type, or a serial killer who kills murderers. You know, he started a lot of that kind of television. And I was lucky enough to be exposed to a lot of it, when I was growing up.

DMcC: What I would say is the difference between the programmes that have been identified in the wasteland. Because when I think of Leave it to Beaver, Bonanza or Wagon Train, these kind-of classic shows, they had an agenda, right (5:00)? You can’t watch Bonanza, for instance, today without thinking about “pioneering” narratives, and “manifest destiny” and the kind-of racial configuration of indigenous people versus settlers. And I wonder whether that narrative of wasteland stuff has been oversold. But when you say Lear has been doing something new, how would you frame that newness in contrast to what the earlier shows may have been attempting to do? Is it the deliberateness with which he presented social issues?

BR: Yes, I would say so. A lot of this is in his kind-of own mind. Because, like you were saying, we can contest him very early on. Because those sorts of shows are presenting a certain notion of family as well – which is something that he challenges with his All in the Family. He takes more or less the most challenging issues of the day, and makes them the literal plot points and story lines of his television show. So, if anything changes with Lear, it’s the fact that he begins to use the genre of the situation comedy – borrowing from an English example. Because, by the way, All in the Family and Sanford and Son, two of the most well-known shows, were British adaptations – adaptations of British television shows. So that’s why there’s such a kind-of class dimension to Lear’s programming as well. That’s why Archie Bunker is a particularly white, working class person. And, to me, I think we’re still wrestling with the implications of that: making that type of character front and centre, often times the comedy coming at his expense. So I agree, as far as the shows that you’re mentioning are presenting a certain vision of the world. For Lear, very much . . . and we can begin to criticise. Because the shows did have a vision, for him he just didn’t acknowledge it. They’re sort-of worthy . . . or he thought he could present a better alternative. You know – something that was – quote- unquote –”relevant and applicable” to what was happening at the time. He got a lot of pleasure from knowing that he would do an episode on, say, hypertension in the black community. And then the next day, or two days, three days after, he’d hear about how a bunch of people went to go get checked out. You know, so that was his . . . If anything, it’s taking the sitcom and composing it in light of what’s literally happening at the time. And reading newspaper clippings, and newspapers, and journals. And thinking about what’s happening, and trying to integrate that into the television. So to me, that’s kind-of what he’s after.

DMcC: And that’s the relevance model that you were talking about: that we look at what’s happening in the world, and find a way to make our programming directly speak to our age and its issues. When we think back, as historians, on these periods, and we think about the issues that Lear raised as important, and we try to present those issues, let’s say, in a kind-of “Religion in America”, or a kind-of “History of 1950s” or “History since World War II”, what are the beats of the story that we use that we tell that narrative?

BR: Yes. So, for me, I’m still sort-of figuring that out, I guess. I’m actually . . . . It’s not easy to tell one particular story. But I’m actually working on a piece that tries to narrate the 1970s as a whole, as a decade. And I’m trying to figure out how to do that, for this particular work. I’ve always been fascinated or taken by the phrase or declaration: “The personal is the political”. I’ve always . . . . It’s just something that I continue to go back to, beginning in the 1960s onwards. And so, if I were to begin to periodise anything, I’m also fascinated by the rise of what’s called “the social issue”, when it comes to just American public life. And we can get into that. And who is the – quote-unquote – “side” who first start to push the – quote-unquote – social issue. But for me, if we were to start any kind-of story, the culture wars, you know, that debated . . . . And we have some slippage in what we mean. I think it’s important that we be very clear and precise in what we mean by “culture war” or “cultural warfare” or “the culture wars”. And that’s what I try and do in my teaching. And so, to me, Lear’s very much living in an age of culture war and cultural warfare: when the personal does become the political, and when politics themselves become less about, say, gross domestic product and more about who you’re sleeping with, or who you’re deciding to sleep with, or what you’re doing in the privacy of your own home. So if I – in this piece I’m writing about the seventies – can state it’s a real big deal to me, that transition from the sixties to the seventies – Watergate, Vietnam, Jimmy Carter – so certainly “post-‘45 history” is important here, in how we narrate that in general. But for me, in my own kind-of understanding of the story, is when these two kind-of forces tend to come together – in the sense that what we do in a certain, private sense is very important politically and we’re going to make that the stuff of politics – such that then Lear takes those up into his programming, and makes much of his television about those sorts of topics. And I’m also . . . . Yes. So anyway, go ahead.

DMcC: I wonder whether, in one sense, the technology goes really hand-in-hand with that switch (10:00)? So if you had the programming of the late forties and the fifties, and you compare it with the speed at which news could travel, and with production values that episodes could be produced and then distributed, then in the seventies, you have this rapid switch. So I’m hearing two things, right? The first is that there was a move to consider the content in a new way, to make it more relevant. But also I’m hearing a little bit, maybe, in the periodisation of the sixties and seventies, that there are other structural, social issues – not only Vietnam and Watergate, like politically and militarily, but also that, you know, the nightly news and the increasing number of sources for where one could get more news: the simple ability that there were more than four channels in the seventies. When you start thinking about how Lear has thought about the past, and when he has a nostalgia or an anti-nostalgia for the fifties and the sixties, as he’s trying to kind-of like show that contrast . . . are those the kind-of things that make it possible for that change to be even more rapid than it was previously?

BR: Yes absolutely. In technological development I might be thinking about . . . in my next project that looks at how information began to be shared through something as simple as the mail. . . . But when it comes to . . . . Yes, exactly right. So I actually talk about . . . we were talking a little bit earlier about how to measure a lot of this for the impact. You know, still in the early seventies, we only have about three or four different television channels, such that hundreds of millions of people are watching a given episode at one time. Those sorts of numbers are really unimaginable today. And that speaks to your great question earlier about the public: what does the public mean? So there’s a wonderful book, Age of Fracture. I think your question certainly speaks to the beginning of that, to the beginning of a fracturing of a public that Lear is perhaps trying to hold on to, in an overly romantic and an overly idealised way. Because, in many ways, progressive visions of the good are synonymous with visions of the public good. And visions of the public. So yes, I think your technology in this time: television – the fact that Lear also took great pleasure, like you were saying earlier, influencing water-cooler talk in the office the next day. He took great pride in something like that. But at the same time . . . so, we have hundreds of millions of people but then over the seventies that begins to fracture a little bit. By the time we get to the eighties, the fairness doctrine is struck down. We get things like cable and then we begin to see the kind-of landscape that we have today.

DMcC: So if we’re thinking about it . . . like I could push a technological periodisation on things. I could push a political . . . oftentimes there’s the kind-of “before Watergate”, “after Watergate”, there’s “before civil rights” or “before the” . . . you know, “1968”. There’s “before Martin Luther King’s assassination”, there’s “before JFK‘s assassination”. There’s “after the civil war”. For you, what is the easiest, the most accessible fault line of that for you? Is it technological, is it figural? Is it political, is it military? What is the line there that you would bring?

BR: Well, I guess I try and get at a little bit of all of it, I suppose. But then, I guess, maybe something else I come back to a lot is someone like Jimmy Carter. When we narrate this period, our field tends to rely on Carter and the kind-of introduction . . . the born again experience and all that, to do a lot of work for us. I think, looking at someone like Archie Bunker, to be honest . . . . Looking at someone like him – as he’s representative of a certain life that’s beginning to be explored, and kind-of exposed to the public – to me, I think we should really start to sort-of narrate the seventies based on . . . . I have this Time issue, I think it’s Newsweek or Time that basically discovers the – quote-unquote – “middle American”. And that’s a term that I’m trying to play around with a little bit in this seventies piece that I’m doing. But if I were to be kind-of honest, I do think we have to recalibrate a little bit as far as . . . so maybe I would say politically, I suppose. And maybe socially, and kind-of culturally, I would use those sorts of viewpoints and begin to say, we have to wrestle a little bit more with how someone like Archie was shaped or impacted at the time by the very restructuring that you were mentioning earlier. You know, people talk about this period as the “death of the working class”. I think Jefferson Cowie‘s written a book  about that, a historian, and he’s included in that story. And we don’t necessarily bring that up as often as we should. Oftentimes it’s Carter, it’s the born again. To me we should also remember that he introduces the outsider narrative, in a lot of ways, into American politics that then gets taken up by his successor, and then – to a greater extent – our current President at the moment (15:00). So I guess I would rely on those if I were to narrate anything.

DMcC: If we were to compare the way in which we’re talking about television – the limited scope of offerings that were available to the public – and then we kind-of roll the narrative for today, is the fracturing that Lear was potentially trying to prevent us from falling into . . . have we irrevocably fallen into that? Like, this morning I was on TikTok. . . . Yes, Users, I have a TikTok

BR: (Laughs).

DMcC: But I don’t publish anything, either. I have no idea what I would publish. I’m certainly not going to dance in front of the mirror in the bathroom.

BR: At least not all the time.

DMcC: Yeah. Not all the time. And at least not on video. So if that seven to fifteen seconds is the new length of the media that we have today, I wonder whether those kind-of strong narratives that you articulate for Lear – that he was concerned about having a space for dialogue, having a space for civil dialogues – that the fracturing of the media space has prevented that. Is that post-modernism, is that simply the death of metanarratives? How should we understand, when we look back and we see such a strong kind-of consensual narrative on the religious left – if we talk about it in that way for Lear – how do we then come forward and assess our current age in comparison to that?

BR: That’s a wonderful question, and I think to be honest that’s part of the fall that I kind-of talk about. I think a wonderful example to speak to that is the fact that ABC has now twice put on live shows, live performances of his shows – the Norman Lear shows. You know, I know that academics don’t really watch cable television or network television for whatever reason, but ABC in the last, say, four or five months has twice put on episodes of Norman Lear’s All in the Family and the Jeffersons. I’ve wondered why, myself. What’s the deal with the timing? To me that kind-of consensual, aspirational, civilly-grounded understanding of the public square continues to live on in shows like Parks and Recreation. I wrote a piece that connected explicitly you know All in the Family and Parks and Recreation. And you’re right about fracturing, and the fifteen seconds. All of that is going on simultaneously. But on network television there’s still this kind-of space for these sorts of shows. I don’t really necessarily think that’s the case now. I think a lot of people like The Good Place. I started watching that show when it first came on. I haven’t watched it very much since. I know people get a lot out of that, especially progressive individuals or academics. It’s philosophy and popular culture: “Yippee! We’re relevant! We matter!” or whatever. But to me, I think it still lives on in someone like (audio unclear) in the best possible sense, in the worst possible senses. I think if you look at that show, they’re saying that it’s local politics and it’s not supposed to be national, blah, blah, blah. But I think we see a lot of the limitations, and definitely some of the contributions, but to me more so the kind-of limitations of a progressive understanding of deliberation, and how things get done. So to be honest I think we’re still seeing attempts to bring together a bigger space to view these sorts of things. I think, in many ways, it would be nice if we had something like The Firing Line return in some capacity. I know the Brits have a show kind-of like this called Question Time. I think it would be nice . . . or necessary. I think it is necessary that we bring back this kind-of larger conversation space, just for the reasons you’re saying. Because things are so fractured.

DMcC: I have so many questions! I’m trying to decide which one comes next. So I’m hearing two things. First, in the context of your book, you talk about how the liberal move for creating a space for dialogue actually ended up potentially weakening the religious left in the end. And in what you just said a moment ago, I heard the suggestion that in order to create a national dialogue again, in order to create a space for that, we are replicating in some ways the moves that you identify with Lear. That All in the Family was a space where Archie Bunker could say things that were unpopular, and the characters around him responded as caricatures of the kind-of people of the day: here’s an angry person who has a racial identity(20:00); here’s an angry person which has a political affiliation. And that the creation of that show was a space for that dialogue. I’m hearing, in what you just said, that what we’ve lost in the fracturing is the ability to have that space for the dialogue. Is that the public square that we’re talking about? Is that the name for that space?

BR: It very much could be. Yes, that’s something that I could probably think a little bit more about, or think more through. I just think, with Lear, when I say things like public square, public space . . . because I’ve been so taken by . . . . There’s this book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning and the American Right. It’s a book of sociology, and she looks at something called a “deep story”. And it’s a conservative deep story that’s the primary focus of the book. And she looks at something called a “liberal deep story”. And that story is one of something called the public square. Let’s say . . . maybe not the public sphere because that has too much theoretical stuff going on. So I’ll just say, you know, this idea of the public square. So the deep story is that liberal progressives have built this thing called the public, the public square. You have libraries, you have schools, you have arts centres, you have cultural institutions, you have everything that you could possibly want. Things go smoothly. You have parks. But then at one point, as she says, marauders appear upon the proverbial gates and they look to privatise what is otherwise public and freely accessible. So, in many ways, to me the public square is part of kind-of the identity of progressive thought of politics. It’s just something that you think with, as you begin to imagine what the public looks like or what the square could kind-of look like. And so I suppose, in the early seventies, that looked one way, where you had three channels, you had hundreds of millions of people watching at one time. Maybe that public is different than the kind-of public that we have now, where, if we want to theorise a little bit, our notion of the public square . . . . But, to me, what I wanted to emphasise, it’s certainly a space – an imagined one – but it’s also sort-of a tool, or its sort-of something that progressives already kind-of think with in order to articulate a broader vision of the public good. And with someone like Lear, the public interest. Which is something that he defends in his programming very explicitly as something that’s constitutionally protected. So, to me, that’s sort-of fluid. But I wanted to emphasise that the square is this imaginative tool that progressives use to articulate visions of the broader good.

DMcC: I’m really curious about how we can think back about these moments that you’re talking about in the sixties and seventies. And, as a historian who is too young to have lived through those, I really wonder about our ability to explain to our students today, and to the public that might be younger than those eras, how the public square is different than it used to be. And we’ve mentioned already a fracture, right – the age fracture. We’ve mentioned, maybe, that there’s a technological component to it. I know that if we were economists talking we would be talking about huge inequality. If we were political theorists we might be talking about polarisation.

BR: Neoliberalism

DMcC: Neoliberalism, yes. But I’m certainly an American religious historian. And you may see yourself in that way, too. Is the culture war the thing for us, then? When we talk about the public square, in relation to what is the mechanism by which we think through the public square. So, for your book, it seemed that that was the case. Is that how you feel about it too?

BR: Yes. I mean that’s a great way of saying it. I use the metaphor of theatres. So the traditional sense is we have the European theatre, the theatre of the Pacific, you know, World War II sensibilities. But then I like to play around with the fact that that kind-of martial interaction came home with a vengeance. And that’s when we begin to talk about Kent State, that’s when we talk about disillusionment, that’s when we talk about Vietnam, that’s when we begin to talk about Watergate: a systematic falling out, when it comes to trust and belief in the fundamental institutions that theoretically ground American public life, or grounded American public life at the time. And, in many ways, the success of someone like Trump continues to take advantage of that. We destroy what we want to actually become a part of. Collateral damage doesn’t necessarily matter. So I know the word and the phrase gets used a lot. It gets used, you know, “culture war”: a lot of sociologists argue that there really is no such thing. That it’s really just kind-of all brow-beating, and it’s just pundits, and it’s all top down. And you look at the actual numbers and people are that divided, and blah, blah blah! I did an exam on this. I kind-of disagree with a lot of that (25:00). I think, if anything, it’s not really top down or bottom up – it’s simultaneous. I don’t think we have to make choices when it comes to something like that. I do think we do have to be particular and specific when it comes to this period of time – sixties and seventies to the present – when it comes to the culture war. So there are a number of wonderful books out there. Andrew Hartman has a number of wonderful books. I think someone like Stephen Prothero‘s helpful – but not necessarily in a completely helpful way. I think we can look at something like that and ask . . . we say we have something like the culture wars, we have the cultural war, and something like cultural warfare. And so, for me, what I try and do with my students, like you were saying, is . . . you know, if the public square was All in the Family at one point, maybe the public square is YouTube right now, or something like TikTok or Twitter, or something like that. So maybe that’s the public square. And so I use a lot of media in my classes, I use a lot of clips to give them a sense of a shared experience that is maybe obliterated over the past forty or fifty years. But yes, I think the nature . . . the all-consuming nature of the conflict, the exacerbation that has taken place because of social media, the “swirl” that Jason Bivens will speak soon of, in his forthcoming book on the embattled majority or embattled majorities. He’s just a wonderful thinker and scholar. That’s what I really think we need to turn to, analytically, in an inter-disciplinary way: pulling from critical theory, pulling from sociology, pulling from psycho-analysis. Because these are the times that we live in, and these are the tools that are necessary to understand our present conditions.

DMcC: I loved that in every answer here, I try to kind-of like hedge you a little bit into a box: “Would you like to get into this box here?” You’re like, “No. It’s much more complicated. There are so many more things than go in a box.” So, “Do you want to periodise things in this way?” “No, we need them all.” “Is the public square this way?” “No, it’s all of these things, too.” I love it, because I think it really speaks to the willingness to uphold all the level of complexity in the way that these things work. They simply are not reducible. They’re not . . . we cannot make the units with which we talk about the past so singular. And one of the real constructions of the culture war is that there are two sides. They all share the positions that are on one side or the other, and that there’s no-one in the middle. And that people on one end of the spectrum can’t disagree on a single issue, right? Or that they don’t count. That construction, right, is what you’re resisting in the questions. And I think it’s so useful. It’s such a useful resistance to offer for everyone. In order to create that complexity. One of the virtues, one of the values maybe that we think about – and this brings us back to Lear more explicitly – is civility: the ability to sustain, for a moment, something that is disagreeable for you, in the hopes that by having that dialogue, by being in that shared space, by having that experience that both parties will be improved in some way. And that takes a level of faith, right? That I’m going to hear something that I’m going to disagree with, but that I’m going to think seriously about it and consider it. And then on the far side of that that I’m going to come out better for it. Is that how we should think about Lear’s understanding of civility?

BR: Yes, I think it might be a little bit more complex, maybe a little more complicated,

DMcC: Nice! (Laughs).

BR: I don’t know, I only bring it up because I think it’s part of the very thing that has to be examined. Because I think in a theoretical way, yes. It’s exactly how all this is supposed to go. And you know, People for the American Way – the non-profit organisation he creates – doubles, triples and quadruples down on this notion. And it has been, really, since its origins in the early eighties. I mean, I have a little pamphlet that literally says: “How to mix religion and politics”. It’s very prescriptive. And so, to me, it’s not necessarily bad or negative that we have these ideas of civility, this or that. It’s really the prescriptive element that’s the problem. You know Lesley (audio unclear) is fine and great up until she makes you sign a friendship contract so that she’ll know you’re her friend forever. You know, that’s when it begins to turn in on itself. That’s when I begin to argue – as kind-of “the fall”, a little bit – is that, in a certain way, the progressive visions begin to come a little bit autocratic in some sense. Not all the time, certainly. But . . . go ahead, yeah.

DMcC: Is this the critique of the kind-of purity tests, right? For “You’re not a card-carrying progressive if ——–”, right? Or “You’re not a conservative if your position on abortion is x or y?” Right? Is that the sense that you’re getting at there?

BR: Yes and I would say that that’s something I’m looking at in my next project is the purity test. So, conservative individuals in the seventies called those Bible score cards (30:00). So that was one of the ways that we talked about the – quote-unquote – “rise” of the Christian right. I think that’s kind-of overblown. I think that’s something I’m going to get into in the forthcoming work. But really, if you look at something like that, the purity test, that was something that was created to begin to unseat progressive and democratic senators in the 1970s. And that’s something that Lear explicitly fights against in his somewhat well-known, People for the American Way PSA that he does, where he has the hard hat guy get out of the fork lift and basically say, “Why are we having preachers tell us how to vote? Why are we doing that? According to this preacher I’m seventy-five percent Christian, my wife is sixty percent and luckily my son is a hundred. Because he agrees with everything that they say.” So Lear explicitly was fighting against that very idea. But it has lived into our present, I contend, certainly in the sense that, yes, we use this score card to say “Ok, what do you think about abortion? Check, yes or no. What do you think about guns, yes or no?” It was a systematic judgement of a politician’s suitability to a given office, based on this section of issues going back to the social issue. These were the things that made the social issue the thing. And cultural warfare yourself, like you were saying, it seeks to polarise and it seeks to create these sides that are very much the mechanism that has produced polarisation, like you were saying. So it’s a series of wonderful questions. And I can’t remember where we started with that. But I would say that the resistance to kind-of this way, or that way, is very much the mechanism that keeps everything going. And I think certain sides take advantage of that. Something like, say . . . look what happened with Colin Kaepernick and the kneeling and how that turned from brutality to something about the military, which had nothing to do with anything. So I think those are the tactics that we have to handle a little bit better.

DMcC: I think it’s the move to make things simple and clear, right. That when, let’s say, you have a complicated issue like Colin Kaepernick, kneeling. That when he kneels he means one thing, and he may even say what he means – although he didn’t before he started kneeling. He did after he started kneeling. And then he has this moment where w the action has been received by the public in a way that was totally unintended. He tried to create a simple action for a simple cause. And everybody saw different competing simple things with him. So the whole story for us is really complex. Because we can tell it in all these different ways. But for all the agents, all the actors, who are invested in this, they were seeing it in simple ways. “You’re disrespecting the military” right? Or “This is not a space for such political actions.” So, they bring the complexity of the narrative down to these really simple moments. And that feels to me like the move of the culture wars, right? How can we condense all of America, who believes all these different things . . . ? In that moment, what can we do? We can make issues, and we can ask you, we can poll you in that, and check the box for you. And if we can do that, now we have consolidated the narrative. We have consolidated the power into these five issues, let’s say. If you had – as we come to the end of our time here – if you had to consolidate the issues for Lear, and for the story that you’re telling about the religious left that rose with him, and that also maybe fell because of how he had framed it, what would be the simple story there? Is there a way to wrap that up in a bow for us?

BR: Well that’s a wonderful question. So, sort-of maybe the singular unifying narrative? I mean I think there’s nothing . . . Let me put my thoughts together. That’s a really good question. I guess what I want to point to is that even though a lot of this takes place in the sixties and seventies, one of the benefits of doing a project like this is that I was able to talk to him. I was able to interview him a couple of times and still get a sense of what he’s fighting against, what he’s continuing to work on behalf of, you know. In the past he’s said that Donald Trump is the collective expression of America’ middle finger. The fact that he’s putting these shows on still. I think that there’s a wonderful amount of productive sort-of contribution when it comes to visions of the public life and his representations of the religious left. Because for a lot of people that’s not what they think of, off the top of their heads, when they think of the religious left. But I wanted to make that case explicitly because I saw his access to media and the networks as being a very influential place of influence (35:00). But I think, you know, with that influence and positivity in production came a certain sense of, maybe, presumptuousness; a certain assumption about, well, “If we put a bigot in front of everyone, they’ll realise what’s going on. They’ll get the satire, they’ll be in on the joke and we can all watch Archie Bunker disappear into the dustbins of history.” Which, obviously, as we know didn’t happen. If anything the very opposite has happened, which is in many ways, to an extent, how we have the kind-of presidential situation that we have today. So, if anything, I think it’s that lack of the acknowledgement of the complexity, the lack of the acknowledgement that something like All in the Family, which was an attempt to address discrimination, to address racism and bigotry in a positive way, but in many ways, oftentimes, created the very thing he was trying to fight against. And in many ways that’s kind-of the challenge that liberal progressives have to understand today, or figure out today, still. In the sense of clinging to gods and guns, and the slips of the tongue about deplorables. I think they’re still lost, to a certain extent, when it comes to talking to working class peoples. Daniel Bell speaks about a transition from class to culture. The progressives lose the sense, or the ability to speak to working class peoples over the course of the sixties and seventies. I think that Lear is sort-of the poster child of that transition. We’d rather laugh at Archie Bunker than actually understand his socio-economic conditions that produce the behaviours that we then put in front of the American people to laugh at, and to satirically present. Not unlike The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, or any of these things that have been produced since. So in many ways I guess that’s what I would say, is that a kind-of lacking of the acknowledgement or accountability of the very things that you’re trying to fight against, that you’re actually cultivating at the same time. And Lear helps us understand the process and falling off.

DMcC: Well, I’m so thankful for your time today and for the really interesting way that you think about the past, and the really interesting figures that I think you’re bringing to our attention. For those that maybe in the international audience: All in the Family – there are many, many clips that are available on YouTube for you to kind-of get a sense of it. And we’ll try to link to one or two of those when this goes live. We thank you so much for your time, Dr Rolsky. We hope we get to speak to you again.

BR: Yes I’d love that. Thank you very much, again, for having me.

If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with transcription, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

Descriptions of Religion as Explanations of Religion

In this week’s podcast, Kathryn Lofton and John Modern join Adam Miller for a conversation that hovers around the relationship between description and explanation in the study of religion, and the notion that the way scholars of religion think about their categories of analysis shapes what they say about a given set of data and how they say it. Given the entanglement of description and explanation, Lofton and Modern stress the responsibility scholars of religion have to know their material deeply, to be aware of the history of their field and categories of analysis, and to speak to issues/questions beyond their areas of speciality.

Kathryn Lofton is the Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Yale University. She is the author of Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, the soon-to-be-published Consuming Religion, and is currently working on the religious contexts of Bob Dylan. John Modern is the Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Franklin & Marshall College. He is the author of Secularism in Antebellum America and is currently pursuing two book projects—one on machines and cognitive science, and another on Devo and rubber. In addition to their solo-enterprises, they have worked together on a couple of things—Frequencies, a collaborative genealogy of spirituality, for example, and most recently a book series to be published by the University of Chicago Press titled Class 200.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, camping gear, masquerade masks, and more.

 

Can Religion Explain the KKK?

Describing the story of the Ku Klux Klan as “lovely”, as Kelly Baker does in her interview with David Lewis, is initially perplexing.  Fortunately, Baker goes on to clarify what she intends, noting that the Klan’s history of racism and violence in no way qualifies as “nice.”  Her description of the Klan’s “story” as “lovely,” according to Baker, does not refer to the Klan’s violent history, but to a vast print culture that enables methodological access to the ways Klan members constructed their “ideologies” and “worldviews” in the years spanning from 1915 to 1930. Citing her own motivation for studying the group, she tells Lewis that “lots of people say things about white supremacists, but understanding their motivations and why they’re drawn to these ideologies was not so much the context [or goal].”

In her book, Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (2011),  Baker uses the “second Klan’s” newspapers and magazines as “an invaluable entrée into the Klan’s worldview…”[1]  Importantly, her endeavor to understand the Klan’s “worldview” and “ideology” aims to problematize scholarly and media representations of the group as primarily uneducated, rural, male, and southern.  Despite the persistence of these representations, Baker shows that Klan membership consisted of southerners and northerners, men and women, the uneducated as well as “bankers, lawyers, dentists, doctors, ministers businessmen, and teachers.”  Rather than a “fringe” movement, then, Baker points to the widespread appeal of the racist and gendered agenda of the Klan leading up to the 1930s.

While much of the interview involves a discussion of the representations of the Klan in popular media, Baker’s book emphasizes scholarly representations of the group.  In her work, she makes an intriguing and important argument regarding specifically the omission of the Klan’s “religion” from scholarly analyses.  Scholars have, according to Baker, focused on economic, social, and political factors in explanations of the Klan, diagnosing it primarily as a movement motivated by “populist” anxieties and fears in a changing national environment.  Against the trend of dismissing the Klan’s “religion” as “false”, “inauthentic”, and thus analytically irrelevant, Baker finds it a necessary component in understanding how the group organized and mobilized a particular self-identity and national vision in the early twentieth century.

Baker emphasizes that a failure to take seriously the religious motivations and worldview of the Klan not only limits our understanding of the group.  More than that, the designation of their “religion” as false serves to conceal the uglier aspects of Protestant hostility and power in U.S. history.  Put simply, “true” Protestantism is preserved through the delineation of “false” appropriations of it by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.   Arguing that the Klan’s anti-black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic national vision possessed wide, non-fringe, appeal from 1915-1930, she asks, “How might narratives of American religious history be told if the Klan was integrated rather than segregated? If a white supremacist movement proves pivotal rather than fringe, then what might happen to our narratives of nation?”[2]  She suggests that a religious studies approach helps to make sense of Klan “religiosity”, as well as scholarly de-legitimizations of it.

Baker’s focus on the mechanisms through which scholarly representations participate in desired definitions and tellings of “religion” in “American” “history” is important work.   Indeed, the project that Baker mentions of separating “true religion” from “false religion” has a heavy presence in U.S. history and historiography.[3]  Yet, while Baker’s interventions regarding the need to take seriously the “religion” of the Klan is noted, I question whether she does not herself reinforce problematic epistemological and methodological assumptions about “religion.”  More precisely, does her search for the “worldview” and “ideology” of the Klan through its newspapers — absent a rigorous situating of these texts and their readers in particular economic, political, and geographic contexts — reproduce reductive and essentializing definitions of “religious” causation?

The project of distinguishing “true” from “false” religion, referenced by Baker, has most often referred to the normative and racist assumptions of such projects.[4]  Scholars have traced how religious theorization, definition, and comparison of “true” and “false” religion emerged in the context of colonial encounter and economic domination.   More precisely, these scholars have argued that theories of religion have been and continue to be connected to racist anthropological assumptions that deem racialized “others” incapable of rational “belief”[5] — whether in the writings of E.B. Tylor or in, arguably, the persistence of definitions of Protestant religiosity as more “liberal” and “democratic” than, say, Islam.

Baker’s invocation of the project of religious definition is quite different.  She does not point to how constructions of “true religion” are linked to racist anthropologies.  Rather, the argumentative implication of her work is that the scholarly denial of the Protestant “religion” of the Ku Klux Klan — a white supremacist group with its own racist anthropological theories — actually helps contemporary Protestants to conceal and forget the prevalence of Protestant racism in U.S. history.   It appears that her book, then, is in some way aimed at — even though she does not state this — helping readers recognize the prevalence of racist “worldviews” and “ideologies” through the un-fringing of the Klan’s Protestant religiosity.

The connections between religious theorization and imperial racism, however, might lead us to bigger questions regarding the extent of the relationship between Protestant religion, its definitional assumptions, and racism.  I say all of this not to dismiss Baker’s argument that we need to take seriously how the racist ideologies and worldviews of the Ku Klux Klan extend beyond those wearing white hoods and carrying torches.  We should take seriously, indeed, her argument that the dismissal of the Klan’s “religion” as false and inauthentic plays into the desire to occlude the ugly moments of Protestant and American racism.  Yet, she attaches this ugly history to a particular and identifiable ideological formulation, a particular worldview — whether found in the Klan of the early twentieth century or in the contemporary Islamophobia of the Tea Party.

Considering the long relationship between religious definition and racist anthropologies, we see that Protestant racism not only exists in the form of conservative “ideologies” and “worldviews.”  More importantly, and perhaps dangerously, it pervades the most well-intentioned and “enlightened” disciplinary practices.  Instead of locating white supremacy only in the persistence of the Klan’s “brand” today[6], it might be more productive for scholars of race and religion to consider the challenge posed by Black Lives Matter and other groups.  For, as they are showing in their confrontation of police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and the capitalist exploitation of black and brown bodies, U.S. racism runs deeper than a “worldview” that we can easily recognize and help others to see.  These challenges demand a self-reflexivity that goes beyond identifying racism in a worldview we do not possess.  More significantly, they call us to examine how our own institutional, disciplinary, and economic practices help to perpetuate a racist system.

[1] Kelly Baker, Gospel According to the Klan: The KKKs Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (U Kansas Press, 2011), p. 22.

[2] Ibid, 19.

[3] Baker, The Gospel of the Klan, p. 17.

[4] For a helpful overview of this issue in regards to the disciplinary subfield of American Religious History, see Finnbarr Curtis’s essay “The Study of American religions: critical reflections on a specialization” in Religon, no. 42, issue 3, 355-372 (June 21, 2012).  Found here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0048721X.2012.681875#.VuNZYJMrL-YFor another helpful work on the assumptions of religious comparison and the construction of the category “world religion”, see Tomoko Masuzawa’s The Inventions of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (U Chicago Press, 2005).

[5] To hear more about the distinction between race and ethnicity, as well as the co-construction of religion and race as social categories, it will be helpful to listen to Rudy Busto’s podcast interview on The Religious Studies Project titled “Race and Religion: Intertwined Social Constructions,” found here: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/race-and-religion-intertwined-social-constructions/.  Also, see his book King Tiger:  The Religious Vision of Reies López Tijerina (U New Mexico Press, 2006)

[6] Baker, The Gospel of the Klan, 249.

Rebecca Rushdoony Once Condemned a Cat as a Heretic

Rebecca Rushdoony once condemned a cat as a heretic.

The eldest child of R.J. Rushdoony, an American theologian dedicated to helping Christians learn to build God’s kingdom on earth, Rebecca was mad the stray cat wouldn’t stay put. So she pronounced the cat damned, much to her father’s amusement.

This is one of only a few family anecdotes in Michael J. McVicar’s book, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, the first in-depth history of Rushdoony and the religious movement he started. This might not seem remarkable. McVicar’s highly anticipated work is an intellectual history. It examines Rushdoony’s theology and the influence that theology has had on Christian conservatives. The focus is not on the small, intimate moments of family life.

It is worth remarking on, though, because Rushdoony was deeply invested in the idea of the importance of the family. His life’s work was aimed at changing the world. He thought that change would happen through Christian families.

As McVicar explains in his interview with the Religious Studies Project, Rushdoony’s plan for transforming the world started with biblically “reconstructed” fathers.

“They are going to take control of their families,” McVicar says, “by applying the strictures of biblical law onto first themselves, the male agent, then onto their wives, then onto their children. Rushdoony’s idea was that over time, this would create interlocking networks of godly families that would eventually swell to fill the earth and create the kingdom of God on earth.”

If Rushdoony tried to live out that vision in his own life, with his own family, it is not examined in McVicar’s book.

Christian Reconstruction is not the study of a culture-changing patriarch. It isn’t a book about a father reconstructing himself and his family according to theonomy, God’s law. Rushdoony’s familial relationships and roles are noted only briefly here, evidence of the complexity of his personal character, before receding completely from the narrative.

In this way, McVicar’s historical work on Rushdoony dissents from Rushdoony’s idea of historical change. Christian Reconstruction, the book, starts from and demonstrates a theory of history different than that of Christian Reconstructionism, the movement. McVicar focuses on social networks and institutions as the primary agents of historical change. He does this with great acuity. He is persuasive, not just explaining Rushdoony’s theological work but also in implicitly arguing he can explain this history without attending to Rushdoony’s life and times as a patriarch.

There are compelling reasons to attend to this disjunction. McVicar manages to engage the reader with the ideas that Rushdoony considered crucial even before explicating them. He gives readers an opportunity to examine the generally unreflected-upon assumptions at work in every historical narrative, whether it be recent American religious history or an answer the question, “How was your day?” He gives readers, further, ground to critically examine some of Rushdoony’s basic ideas about the historical change he was attempting to effect.

McVicar also calls attention to this disjunction—which is not to say contradiction—in Rushdoony’s own thought and practice. With unprecedented access to Rushdoony’s correspondence, journals, and unpublished papers, McVicar is able to document Rushdoony’s daily intellectual life, looking not just at what he thought but also how.

What these sources show, McVicar writes, is “a singularly focused, almost mechanical man driven by an all-consuming ambition to build ‘a world-wide ministry through writing.’” Even in his most personal diaries, Rushdoony isn’t particularly interested in applying biblical law to his family. Rather, “Rushdoony’s diaries disproportionately recount his confrontations with theological critics, intellectual ne’er-do-wells at academic conferences, battles with Presbyterian officials, or run-ins with ignorant lay-people,” McVicar writes. “The result is a written record that displays a man more likely to note anger over personal slights and the perceived intellectual vapidity of his enemies than he was to document the happier moments of his life” (11).

Rushdoony, as he emerges in McVicar’s narrative, does not seem inspired by his own vision of biblical families. He seems more compelled by some of the conspiracy-minded thinking that permeated right-wing thought in the mid 20th century.

He was very interested, for example, in a 19th century British group named the Fabian Society. One of the fascinating details McVicar turns up in his archival research is multiple versions of an unpublished essay on the Fabian Society, showing that Rushdoony believed their gradualist and reformist approach to advancing socialism had been profoundly influential. In a memo circulated among conservative think tanks, Rushdoony used the Fabians as a model for what conservatives should be doing. Even as he believed that the kingdom of God would come through reconstructed families, Rushdoony wrote that think tanks could dramatically change the course of history if only it could really coherently unify right-thought with right-practice.

“History,” McVicar quotes Rushdoony, “has never been commanded by majorities but only by dedicated minorities, and the need today is a strategy for the development of that minority into an instrument of thought and action power” (64).

Rushdoony spent large amounts of energy criticizing people who agreed with him on particular issues for their failure to sufficiently unify their thought and action. He thought most Christians and conservatives had under-theorized their activities. At the same time, he struggled to find effective ways to put his theory into practice.

Sometimes, his practice seemed entirely disconnected from his theory.

McVicar looks at Rushdoony’s failed attempts to work inside academia. He looks at Rushdoony’s failed efforts to work with modernist and fundamentalist Presbyterian denominations and then his ill-fated struggle to gain influence over the flagship journal of American evangelicalism, Christianity Today. McVicar follows Rushdoony’s varying success working with right-wing political organizations. He looks at how Rushdoony tried to found a Christian Reconstructionist college, but only managed to build a one-man research organization. He looks, further, at Rushdoony’s conflicted relationships with a younger generation of Christian intellectuals he mentored, notably Greg Bahnsen, John Whitehead, and Gary North.

Even as Rushdoony wrote that the kingdom of God would come through reconstructed families, he was actively engaged in a lot of different ways of trying to influence society.

And some of them were successful.

“Christian Reconstruction, in some important ways, but limited ways, contributed to what Americans would now think of the Christian Right or the New Christian right,” McVicar tells RSP. “I … got to see exactly how much of an influence he had on the rise of things like the religious right, the moral majority, the Rutherford Institute, a handful of really important think tanks, legal advocacy firms, and public defense legal firms that developed in the 1980s. I got to see his influence here, and it did reveal a network of relationships that simply had not been covered in this history before.”

One of the most significant ways Rushdoony had an influence, McVicar shows, was by having his ideas appropriated. Sometimes his thought was adopted quite faithfully, as in some the more conservative streams of the homeschool movement. Other times, the ideas were adapted freely, as was the case with televangelist Pat Robertson, for example, and Tim LaHaye’s somewhat secretive religious-right group, the Council for National Policy. “From Rushdoony’s perspective,” McVicar writes, “CNP participants simultaneously stole his ideas and denied their fundamental truth” (210).

In this way, the story about Rebecca Rushdoony and the cat turns out to be somewhat important. As the theologian was theorizing how Christian patriarchy would bring about the kingdom of God, his daughter was demonstrating the kind of influence he would actually have. She took Rushdoony’s words and repurposed them…

In that case, to condemn a cat as a heretic.

References

McVicar, Michael J. Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2015.

The Risks of Reconstruction

This week’s interview with Florida State University Assistant Professor Michael McVicar highlights two important, but competing elements of recent work on Christian conservatism in the 20th century United States. On the one hand, McVicar’s scholarship fills an important gap in the existing literature on conservative Christian figures. Despite significant advances in the last decade of scholarship, the networks of influence that lay behind the rise of the Religious Right are not fully established. McVicar does the vital work of connecting theological figures like R. J. Rushdoony to the movement’s figureheads like Pat Robertson. Generally, this kind of scholarship lags behind biographical or cultural approaches documenting the broader shifts in the American context. This delay is caused by something that is easier to identify than the diverse elements of the rise of the Religious Right–the problem of primary scholarship on recent conservative figures. The challenges McVicar experienced and the concessions he made to complete his work on Rushdoony appear natural, but they are also highly reflective of the challenges facing further inquiry in this area. If there is a wealth of scholarship today on the Religious Right, it is also the case that much of it treats its subjects altogether too forgivingly. Thus, the work of reconciling the movement’s rise with elements of its racist and sexist past seems to be forever left to other works and other scholars.

First, let me commend McVicar for giving an excellent overview of the rise of reconstructionism as an outgrowth of the fundamentalist/modernist split of the post WWI era. As we will all soon be able to read in his work Christian Reconstruction (UNC-CH, 2015), McVicar shows how theologian R. J. Rushdoony helped establish critical elements of the theology that Billy Graham, Frank Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others used to promote turning away from secular values toward Christian ones. Unlike their liberal and moderate counterparts who saw cultural compromise as inevitable, conservative American Christians redoubled their efforts to be as Jesus described in John 17:16 and avoid being “of the world.”

Reconstructionism was a religious revolution that sought to overturn secular governance in favor of (selected features of) Biblical law. The Christian homeschool movement, for instance, coalesced as a response to the secularization of the public school system, particularly in the wake of court decisions in the 1940s-1960s that reshaped the boundaries between religion and state in the classroom. McVicar lays the Christian response to these defeats squarely at Rushdoony’s feet: “He challenges a lot of Christians to think in legal terms…. Here he is instrumental in setting up or creating a context in which some of the major Christian public defense advocacy firms begin to develop in the late 1970s.” Thus we get the Rutherford Institute and later Paula Jones’ legal case against President Clinton. It is a multi-faceted network that remains characterized by parachurch leadership, extra-church organizations, and a strong affinity toward the values that were identified with the Republican party by the early 1980s.

Today the influence of these ideas persists. In a recent U.S. election cycle, some argued that the legacy of Rushdoony lay in the way that Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry adopted dominionist models that were rooted in the theocratic legalism that reconstructionism brought to the Republican party. (See, for instance, Michelle Goldberg’s work at the Daily Beast, Julie Ingersoll  and Anthea Butler at Religion Dispatches, or Sarah Posner at Salon). So, the legacy of Rushdoony survives, albeit in heavily modified versions that combine a back-to-basic’s theocratic vision with Republican populist rhetoric. With such widespread roots, McVicar is surely making an important contribution by filling in an otherwise-absent backstory.

However, though McVicar’s stands alongside other recently published works on 20th century U.S. Christianity (see the brief appended bibliography), one thing that stands out regarding Rushdoony are the sacrifices that scholars seem to need to make in order to discuss controversial contemporary figures. McVicar identifies the challenges he had obtaining unfettered access to Rushdoony’s private materials at the Chalcedon Foundation. “Over time I gained a little bit of trust and support from them,” he says, “but they still were nervous that I might be coming in to do a smear job on Rushdoony and were really reluctant to let me see his personal correspondence and his diaries.” Only after McVicar submitted his work-in-progress and had published a relatively neutral piece on Rushdoony did Chalcedon grant him permission to access additional unpublished materials. While we don’t know the terms of McVicar’s use of Rushdoony’s private documents, given the inflammatory content of Rushdoony’s public works, we might reasonably expect they could paint him in decidedly negative strokes. So, what do we do when our access to documents is contingent on our neutrality? How much of what we can say about the rise of the Religious Right is similarly hindered by restrictions of speech or limited by access to sensitive personal documents?

I certainly will not fault McVicar for the way Christian Reconstruction turned out. A moderately even-tempered portrayal of Rushdoony in his historical context is no small feat. I would rather have an imperfect portrait to help bridge the gaps in the scholarship than be without one because I insisted on some kind of brutal exposé. And yet I would also expect the Chalcedon’s gate-keeping to inevitably color such a project. The question for the rest of us may be just how much we are willing to be a part of the historical revisionism that sterilizes controversial figures by limiting our ability to discuss their deplorable views on race, sex, colonialism, etc. When we know a figure has been controversial on such topics, are we not obliged to discuss them?

Since McVicar connects Rushdoony directly to the Quiverfull movement that has in recent weeks sent the Internet ablaze with commentary on the Josh Duggar scandal, these questions are also not merely hypothetical nor hyperbole. What should the role of scholars be in interpreting and evaluating these groups? Must we be methodological agnostic about their vices? If we abstain in order to present our subjects neutrally, then what other obligations fall on us. Must we wrestle with Rushdoony’s blatant racism and misogyny? Ignoring them hardly seems neutral, but how does one address them without bias? How can we do so without offending those that hold our primary source documents? As is the case with nearly every figure in the Religious Right, there is ample kindling for the flames. At what point will academic scholarship feel free to raise these issues? And what difference will they make for the study of the Religious Right?

In a recent ethics course I taught, I relied on Sarah McFarland Taylor’s Green Sisters to discuss the intersection of Catholic religious obligations and environmentalism. Taylor retells the story of Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan, who supposedly gave a commencement speech at a high school in New York whose only lines were “Know where you stand and stand there.” In the moments where the rubber meets the road, I wonder whether more of us as scholars are becoming unable to know where we stand, unable to stand where we feel we should, and even unable to feel like we can stand where we are. The climate of academic crisis in the United States makes scholarship itself feel at risk. Who among us in the future will still feel secure enough to wrestle with the obvious spectres that haunt our work, but which speaking about brings risks to us and to our continued access to sources?

Selected Recent Scholarship on the Rise of the Religious Right

Christian Reconstruction

Rousas John Rushdoony might be one of the most important Christian theologians you’ve never heard of. As the primary architect of a unique version of conservative protestantism referred to as Christian Reconstructionism, Rushdoony worked for several decades to implement Old Testament Biblical law in contemporary America. Though he never realized his vision, and though his movement largely died with him, Rushdoony remains an important figure because his comparably extreme vision for Christian America challenged contemporary conservatives on a number of religious and theological issues and helped pull them farther to the political right

In this interview, Professor Michael McVicar discusses Rushdoony and Christian Reconstruction. McVicar gained unprecedented access to Rushdoony’s personal files, archives, and correspondence, which provided invaluable data for McVicar’s book on Rushdoony.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, hamster cages, vintage VHS tapes, and more.

Demons, Exoticism, and the Academy

Something that strikes me about contemporary spiritual warfare is how it’s not so radically different thematically in its interests and its languages than a lot of contemporary American religion. So the argument that ‘this is something out in left field’ really isn’t true, I don’t think. -Sean McCloud

 Dave McConeghy’s interview with Sean McCloud offers so many potential avenues of discussion that it is difficult to pick only one; spiritual warfare is, after all, one of the most-discussed theological issues in contemporary Evangelicalism/Charismaticism today, yet one of the least-discussed points in the Academy: a point which leads McCloud to quip that “most scholars of American religion are completely blind to [spiritual warfare],” and that the study of it still engenders reactions of “Ugh. Why would we study those silly people?”

Often, discussions of American religion seem to start with Cotton Mather and end with Billy Graham, and, in my experience, spiritual warfare is indeed often seen as something that is “out in left field,” a “fringe” practice, or “weird” religion. (For those unfamiliar with the term, “spiritual warfare” refers both to the battle waged between God and demons, as well as the battle waged between Christians and demons.) Many (if not most) of the major texts in the academic canon of American religious history—even those books focused exclusively on church history—omit the practice altogether.  So McCloud is right: while a supernaturalistic demonology may seem exotic to those who have not often encountered it, there is a large swath of Christians who consider spiritual warfare to be both frequent and mainstream.

 Pervasiveness in Evangelical Circles

If there is any useful statistical data on the demonological practices of present-day Evangelicals, I am unaware of it.[1] However, if we look to some of the largest and most influential churches, pastors, or texts in the American landscape, spiritual warfare seems to have a kind of omnipresence. Take Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, for instance, which has eleven branches in the Seattle area alone, in addition to being the “flagship” of the Acts 29 Network, an umbrella group for more than 500 likeminded ministries.[2]  Driscoll asserts that “demons are real and they attack God’s people,” and has developed a rigorously organized theology that seems to have gained a lot of traction, particularly among those who believe in demons yet shun what they see as a kind of looser, laissez-faire mentality amongst their more Charismatic counterparts. It’s worth noting that Driscoll’s demonology has even made its way outside of Christian circles, in the form of a Nightline debate with Deepak Chopra and “heretic” Carlton Pearson.

Similarly, Bethel Church is among the most influential Charismatic groups today, if not the most influential. Spiritual warfare is far from a “fringe” practice for them, nor for Charismatics in general. The many books that Bethel pastors have published are full of the “prayer walks” and “generational inheritances” that McCloud mentioned.  Beni Johnson, for instance, details how she led a prayer walk and ritual cleansing of “Panther’s Meadow,” a space on Mt. Shasta that she claims is used for “ungodly practices,” by which she means New Age and occult spirituality.[3] According to her story, the Pagans practicing there go feral as a result of her prayers, hissing and fleeing the scene. And then there’s Kris Vallotton’s Spirit Wars, in which demonic, generational inheritances are a central feature of the text. At one point, Vallotton claims that when his mother was a young woman, a fortune teller had read tarot cards for her. This reading had caused a curse, which released demons to kill his father, haunt his mother, and which were now haunting he himself in the present day.[4] While these specific cases are on the more extreme end, the point here is that for Bethel and likeminded Charismatics (of which there are many), demons are a very real threat that must be dealt with.

There are, of course, countless other figures we could examine to demonstrate salience: John Hagee, T. D. Jakes, Rick Joyner, Joyce Meyer, to name only a few of the prevailing voices today. And McCloud and McConaghey are right to identify that this isn’t something brand new, but something that has been developing for quite some time. Tanya Luhrmann’s recent book on Evangelical experientiality which depicts an increase in spiritual warfare amidst the spiritual innovation of the 1970s and Cuneo’s argument that The Exorcist birthed the rise of deliverance movements in the years following the film are both legitimately observing real social trends, yet what we think of spiritual warfare today has been a part of the American landscape for much longer than this; whatever spike in spiritual warfare occurred in this period, it was working with material that was already present in the mix.[5]

This, of course, only addresses the contemporary forms, for if one looks deeper into church history, its absence is the exception rather than the rule. Athanasius’ Life of St. Anthony, for instance, is almost entirely about spiritual warfare, from the ritual cleansing of Pagan temples to demonic manifestations of corporeal abuse.[6] Nancy Caciola has given a wonderfully insightful account of demon possessions (and treatments) that antedate the medieval witch scares.[7] Heiko Obermann’s biography of Martin Luther depicts him as constantly at war with the devil, not just in mind, but physically as well: Satan troubled his bowels and thumped his stove.[8] John Wesley, Thomas More, St. John of the Cross, even the Gnostics had their demons in one form or another. Spiritual warfare doesn’t look the same in every case (and often quite different from how contemporary Evangelicals practice it), but the point here is that demons and spiritual warfare aren’t something that snake handlers invented just yesterday, it is a major thread woven through the entire history of Christianity, and one that continues to be woven through it today.

 Comparable Trends

McCloud’s most important point is that spiritual warfare isn’t some outlying fringe practice, but one that completely dovetails a wider world of supernaturalism in contemporary America. Part of the problem of the Cotton-Mather-to-Billy-Graham model of American religious history is that it tends to emphasize the Scottish Common Sense Realist, rationalist, denominational, naturalist, cessationist leitmotif of Calvinist Protestantism. As he pointed out, there is something to be said for contemporary media presenting demonology as something strange and outdated, and of course, these media are part of the issue here: as he argued elsewhere, the mainstream/fringe dichotomy has largely been constructed by those authoring the media, who themselves privileged a white, middle class Protestantism.[9]

In recent years, this Cotton-Mather-to-Billy-Graham model has gradually been getting more complicated, as some scholars have started drawing attention to the supernaturalist counternarrative that has always existed alongside rationalism, but in terms of popular perception—including that among many academics—there still seems to be a sense that American religion shuns these hierophantic irruptions. Though we have largely abandoned the idea that “religion” means five world faiths that can be broken into neat little denominations, we often tend to still organize our research (and faculty posts) along such lines. Embedded in that inherited arrangement is decades of scholarship that has omitted the supernatural for ideological reasons: first, in seeing all religions through the lens of Victorian Protestantism, the supernatural has traditionally been deemphasized in favor of texts, beliefs, and rituals, and then second, why dwell on demons, ghosts, or channeled spirits when the juggernaut of secularization is going to eradicate them anyway? The religion of the future was to be logical, heady, and amenable to scientific narratives—the collected repertoires of our fields were forged in this mindset, and though secularization may have fallen by the wayside, it seems like topical reorientation has been slower to acclimate.

Closing

Spiritual warfare is ubiquitous, both in the contemporary American Evangelical milieu, but also in the broad and far-reaching history of religion. It is worth examination, for numerous reasons—phenomenologically, it’s a central part of the experience for many, both as individuals and as groups. Ideologically, it can enshrine social opposition as demonic. Ritually, it can be a means of demarcating space. Sociologically, it can establish the boundaries of group membership.[10] Psychologically, it can be a means of interpreting and moving past one’s own moral failings. Theologically, it is central to theodicies. No matter how you cut it, spiritual warfare is important and needs to be addressed as such.

 Bibliography

Bramadat, Paul. The Church on the World’s Turf: An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Brown, Candy Gunther. Testing Prayer: Science and Healing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Caciola, Nancy. Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.

Cuneo, Michael W. American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty. New York: Doubleday, 2002.

Luhrmann, Tanya M. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

McCloud, Sean. Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, & Journalists, 1955-1993. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Obermann, Heiko. Luther: Man Between God and the Devil. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.

 

 


[1] There is a Pew survey from 2008 which registered 68% of Americans as believing “that angels and demons are active in the world today,” but this says nothing about whether they actually believe those demons ought to be confronted, let alone how they should be confronted. I am unaware of any surveys that pry deeper than this one. http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf

[2] Such “networks” are arguably replacing the model of Protestant denominationalism, allowing for individual churches to maintain ideological autonomy while still remaining linked to other churches with similar viewpoints. See Candy Gunther Brown’s Testing Prayer for a more thorough explanation. Candy Gunther Brown, Testing Prayer: Science and Healing, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 21-63.

[3] Beni Johnson, The Happy Intercessor, (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc, 2009), 95.

[4] Kris Vallotton, Spirit Wars: Winning the Invisible Battle Against Sin and the Enemy, (Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2012), 160-161.

[5] Tanya M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 26, 30-32; Michael W. Cuneo, American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty, (New York: Doubleday, 2002).

[6] Athansius, The Life of St. Anthony and Letter to Marcillinus, ed. Robert C. Gregg, (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980.)

[7] Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006).

[8] Heiko Obermann, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 104-109.

[9] Sean McCloud, Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, & Journalists, 1955-1993, (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 4-11.

[10] It’s noteworthy that in Paul Bramadat’s ethnography of a Canadian Intervarsity Christian Fellowship chapter, this was one of the more explicit ways he interpreted their spiritual warfare as functioning. “The sense of living among, if not being besieged by, often demonically cozened infidels contributes to what Martin Marty has described as a form of “tribalism” which unites the group…in short, because spiritual warfare discourse is based on a sharp dualism between the saved and the unsaved, it helps believers to retrench their sense of superiority (since that is what it amounts to) and to accentuate the fundamental otherness of non-Christians.” Paul Bramadat, The Church on the World’s Turf: An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2000), 115.

Podcasts

Protected: The Public Square and the Heart of Culture War

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

The Public Square and the Heart of Culture War

Norman Lear was a central figure in American television in the 1970s. His media productions like All in the Family were deeply activist, reflecting his ideas about what kinds of dialogue and reflection were needed to preserve American society in an era of sharp divisions over social and political issues that came to be called the Culture Wars. As a voice for progressivism and liberalism, Lear articulated a powerful vision of the public square where civility was the shared root for multicultural America. In this conversation, Dr. Benji Rolsky frames the public square as the central discursive space for mid 20th century liberals, one which not only gave them great social leverage but also limited their future strategic options to respond to the emergence of the religious right as a consolidated political block starting with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Download this episode and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or YouTube. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us and consider becoming a member of our Patreon community with access to extra conversations and shorter classroom versions of our episodes. Or use our Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying books, groceries, or gifts.


The Public Square and the Heart of Culture Wars

Podcast with Benjamin Rolsky (30 March 2020).

Interviewed by David McConeghy.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at:

https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/the-public-square-and-the-heart-of-culture-wars/

David McConeghy (DM): Welcome. My name is David McConeghy. And today I’m joined by Dr Benjamin Rolsky, adjunct instructor in the History and Anthropology Department at Monmouth University, and a part-time lecturer in the Religion Department at Rutgers University. And he’s the author of a fabulous new book, The Rise and Fall of the Religious left: Politics, Television and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond, published by Columbia University Press – fresh off the publishing presses. Dr Rolsky, Benji, it’s so wonderful to have you speaking with me here, today, for the Religious Studies Project! Welcome.

Benjamin Rolsky (BR): Thank you very much for having me. I can’t wait to converse with you.

DMcC: I consumed your book rapidly, with reckless abandon! Because one of the things that really interested me is that you start out, right away, with your experiences watching television maybe of an era that was slightly before your own. And I have to say that that was not my experience, growing up. I did not watch All in the Family, I did not watch I Love Lucy. I did not watch The Mary Tyler Moore show. I was . . . I don’t want to call myself a latch-key kid, but I was the eldest and I came home by myself on the bus. And when I chose television, the television that I chose was DuckTales and Darkwing Duck, and classic kind-of cartoons. And then in the evenings, later on, it was Star Trek for me. So there’s this cultural disconnect that I felt where, like, as a person growing up in the same era with you, with access to the same materials as you, my experience was so different! And what struck me about that is that it was . . . we can have that kind-of disconnect now, in our cultural experiences. So can you talk about what it was like to kind-of be introduced to the work of Norman Lear, and how you came to see that work as valuable not only for your scholarship but also personally?

BR: Yes, sure. Absolutely. So a lot of this is obviously very biographical. So, to be honest, shows that I grew up on didn’t really include “All in the Family”. But it certainly included this moment of relevance. And that’s something that I get into a little bit in the book, in that Lear’s attempting to make television – in his mind, in his opinion – about more than just sort-of a flashing box with lights and all sorts of things going on. So my upbringing, and kind-of exposure to 1970s television – obviously I wasn’t alive when it was on, or anything. It was just something that my folks had on. And I think, in a lot of ways, my folks represent the kind-of mind-set that I’ve been thinking about for a long time which is that something like popular culture, and culture in general, can be put to work. It can be used in a didactic kind-of purpose. It’s not just . . . . . Because familiar things like The Beverly Hillbillies, The Rifleman, you know . . . TV was kind-of a wasteland. And it was literally referred to that, I think in the fifties or sixties, by some network executive. And so Lear looked across that space, and he thought to himself, “You know, I can make television do a little bit more.” And I argue that this is part of a moment that also produces things like MASH and Mary Tyler Moore – which are both pieces of artwork and art that are not just about Korea; or not just about someone who’s trying to find a job in Minneapolis, trying to make her way. So it was part of a larger sort-of moment of relevance. But then also having an understanding that . . . sort-of a progressive understanding that – not unlike Parks and Recreation, or not unlike a show like that where it’s not just about a show and what’s going on between the characters – it provides a vision. It provides a model for how people are to behave and interact with one another. One thing I kind-of miss from the seventies – and this is maybe really romantic and kind-of naive, but there was kind-of a moral sort-of centre, a singular kind-of friend who people could actually count on to do something for them: like Hawkeye, in MASH; Mary, in Mary Tyler Moore; Alex, in Taxi. And I’ve always been fascinated with that . . . or Harry T Stone in Night Court. The television of the time presented a different kind-of vision of society, and Lear was one of the most important sort-of contributors to that pattern that we continue to sort-of see today in the bad kind-of fan. You know, rooting for a Bunker-type, or a Soprano-type, or a serial killer who kills murderers. You know, he started a lot of that kind of television. And I was lucky enough to be exposed to a lot of it, when I was growing up.

DMcC: What I would say is the difference between the programmes that have been identified in the wasteland. Because when I think of Leave it to Beaver, Bonanza or Wagon Train, these kind-of classic shows, they had an agenda, right (5:00)? You can’t watch Bonanza, for instance, today without thinking about “pioneering” narratives, and “manifest destiny” and the kind-of racial configuration of indigenous people versus settlers. And I wonder whether that narrative of wasteland stuff has been oversold. But when you say Lear has been doing something new, how would you frame that newness in contrast to what the earlier shows may have been attempting to do? Is it the deliberateness with which he presented social issues?

BR: Yes, I would say so. A lot of this is in his kind-of own mind. Because, like you were saying, we can contest him very early on. Because those sorts of shows are presenting a certain notion of family as well – which is something that he challenges with his All in the Family. He takes more or less the most challenging issues of the day, and makes them the literal plot points and story lines of his television show. So, if anything changes with Lear, it’s the fact that he begins to use the genre of the situation comedy – borrowing from an English example. Because, by the way, All in the Family and Sanford and Son, two of the most well-known shows, were British adaptations – adaptations of British television shows. So that’s why there’s such a kind-of class dimension to Lear’s programming as well. That’s why Archie Bunker is a particularly white, working class person. And, to me, I think we’re still wrestling with the implications of that: making that type of character front and centre, often times the comedy coming at his expense. So I agree, as far as the shows that you’re mentioning are presenting a certain vision of the world. For Lear, very much . . . and we can begin to criticise. Because the shows did have a vision, for him he just didn’t acknowledge it. They’re sort-of worthy . . . or he thought he could present a better alternative. You know – something that was – quote- unquote –”relevant and applicable” to what was happening at the time. He got a lot of pleasure from knowing that he would do an episode on, say, hypertension in the black community. And then the next day, or two days, three days after, he’d hear about how a bunch of people went to go get checked out. You know, so that was his . . . If anything, it’s taking the sitcom and composing it in light of what’s literally happening at the time. And reading newspaper clippings, and newspapers, and journals. And thinking about what’s happening, and trying to integrate that into the television. So to me, that’s kind-of what he’s after.

DMcC: And that’s the relevance model that you were talking about: that we look at what’s happening in the world, and find a way to make our programming directly speak to our age and its issues. When we think back, as historians, on these periods, and we think about the issues that Lear raised as important, and we try to present those issues, let’s say, in a kind-of “Religion in America”, or a kind-of “History of 1950s” or “History since World War II”, what are the beats of the story that we use that we tell that narrative?

BR: Yes. So, for me, I’m still sort-of figuring that out, I guess. I’m actually . . . . It’s not easy to tell one particular story. But I’m actually working on a piece that tries to narrate the 1970s as a whole, as a decade. And I’m trying to figure out how to do that, for this particular work. I’ve always been fascinated or taken by the phrase or declaration: “The personal is the political”. I’ve always . . . . It’s just something that I continue to go back to, beginning in the 1960s onwards. And so, if I were to begin to periodise anything, I’m also fascinated by the rise of what’s called “the social issue”, when it comes to just American public life. And we can get into that. And who is the – quote-unquote – “side” who first start to push the – quote-unquote – social issue. But for me, if we were to start any kind-of story, the culture wars, you know, that debated . . . . And we have some slippage in what we mean. I think it’s important that we be very clear and precise in what we mean by “culture war” or “cultural warfare” or “the culture wars”. And that’s what I try and do in my teaching. And so, to me, Lear’s very much living in an age of culture war and cultural warfare: when the personal does become the political, and when politics themselves become less about, say, gross domestic product and more about who you’re sleeping with, or who you’re deciding to sleep with, or what you’re doing in the privacy of your own home. So if I – in this piece I’m writing about the seventies – can state it’s a real big deal to me, that transition from the sixties to the seventies – Watergate, Vietnam, Jimmy Carter – so certainly “post-‘45 history” is important here, in how we narrate that in general. But for me, in my own kind-of understanding of the story, is when these two kind-of forces tend to come together – in the sense that what we do in a certain, private sense is very important politically and we’re going to make that the stuff of politics – such that then Lear takes those up into his programming, and makes much of his television about those sorts of topics. And I’m also . . . . Yes. So anyway, go ahead.

DMcC: I wonder whether, in one sense, the technology goes really hand-in-hand with that switch (10:00)? So if you had the programming of the late forties and the fifties, and you compare it with the speed at which news could travel, and with production values that episodes could be produced and then distributed, then in the seventies, you have this rapid switch. So I’m hearing two things, right? The first is that there was a move to consider the content in a new way, to make it more relevant. But also I’m hearing a little bit, maybe, in the periodisation of the sixties and seventies, that there are other structural, social issues – not only Vietnam and Watergate, like politically and militarily, but also that, you know, the nightly news and the increasing number of sources for where one could get more news: the simple ability that there were more than four channels in the seventies. When you start thinking about how Lear has thought about the past, and when he has a nostalgia or an anti-nostalgia for the fifties and the sixties, as he’s trying to kind-of like show that contrast . . . are those the kind-of things that make it possible for that change to be even more rapid than it was previously?

BR: Yes absolutely. In technological development I might be thinking about . . . in my next project that looks at how information began to be shared through something as simple as the mail. . . . But when it comes to . . . . Yes, exactly right. So I actually talk about . . . we were talking a little bit earlier about how to measure a lot of this for the impact. You know, still in the early seventies, we only have about three or four different television channels, such that hundreds of millions of people are watching a given episode at one time. Those sorts of numbers are really unimaginable today. And that speaks to your great question earlier about the public: what does the public mean? So there’s a wonderful book, Age of Fracture. I think your question certainly speaks to the beginning of that, to the beginning of a fracturing of a public that Lear is perhaps trying to hold on to, in an overly romantic and an overly idealised way. Because, in many ways, progressive visions of the good are synonymous with visions of the public good. And visions of the public. So yes, I think your technology in this time: television – the fact that Lear also took great pleasure, like you were saying earlier, influencing water-cooler talk in the office the next day. He took great pride in something like that. But at the same time . . . so, we have hundreds of millions of people but then over the seventies that begins to fracture a little bit. By the time we get to the eighties, the fairness doctrine is struck down. We get things like cable and then we begin to see the kind-of landscape that we have today.

DMcC: So if we’re thinking about it . . . like I could push a technological periodisation on things. I could push a political . . . oftentimes there’s the kind-of “before Watergate”, “after Watergate”, there’s “before civil rights” or “before the” . . . you know, “1968”. There’s “before Martin Luther King’s assassination”, there’s “before JFK‘s assassination”. There’s “after the civil war”. For you, what is the easiest, the most accessible fault line of that for you? Is it technological, is it figural? Is it political, is it military? What is the line there that you would bring?

BR: Well, I guess I try and get at a little bit of all of it, I suppose. But then, I guess, maybe something else I come back to a lot is someone like Jimmy Carter. When we narrate this period, our field tends to rely on Carter and the kind-of introduction . . . the born again experience and all that, to do a lot of work for us. I think, looking at someone like Archie Bunker, to be honest . . . . Looking at someone like him – as he’s representative of a certain life that’s beginning to be explored, and kind-of exposed to the public – to me, I think we should really start to sort-of narrate the seventies based on . . . . I have this Time issue, I think it’s Newsweek or Time that basically discovers the – quote-unquote – “middle American”. And that’s a term that I’m trying to play around with a little bit in this seventies piece that I’m doing. But if I were to be kind-of honest, I do think we have to recalibrate a little bit as far as . . . so maybe I would say politically, I suppose. And maybe socially, and kind-of culturally, I would use those sorts of viewpoints and begin to say, we have to wrestle a little bit more with how someone like Archie was shaped or impacted at the time by the very restructuring that you were mentioning earlier. You know, people talk about this period as the “death of the working class”. I think Jefferson Cowie‘s written a book  about that, a historian, and he’s included in that story. And we don’t necessarily bring that up as often as we should. Oftentimes it’s Carter, it’s the born again. To me we should also remember that he introduces the outsider narrative, in a lot of ways, into American politics that then gets taken up by his successor, and then – to a greater extent – our current President at the moment (15:00). So I guess I would rely on those if I were to narrate anything.

DMcC: If we were to compare the way in which we’re talking about television – the limited scope of offerings that were available to the public – and then we kind-of roll the narrative for today, is the fracturing that Lear was potentially trying to prevent us from falling into . . . have we irrevocably fallen into that? Like, this morning I was on TikTok. . . . Yes, Users, I have a TikTok

BR: (Laughs).

DMcC: But I don’t publish anything, either. I have no idea what I would publish. I’m certainly not going to dance in front of the mirror in the bathroom.

BR: At least not all the time.

DMcC: Yeah. Not all the time. And at least not on video. So if that seven to fifteen seconds is the new length of the media that we have today, I wonder whether those kind-of strong narratives that you articulate for Lear – that he was concerned about having a space for dialogue, having a space for civil dialogues – that the fracturing of the media space has prevented that. Is that post-modernism, is that simply the death of metanarratives? How should we understand, when we look back and we see such a strong kind-of consensual narrative on the religious left – if we talk about it in that way for Lear – how do we then come forward and assess our current age in comparison to that?

BR: That’s a wonderful question, and I think to be honest that’s part of the fall that I kind-of talk about. I think a wonderful example to speak to that is the fact that ABC has now twice put on live shows, live performances of his shows – the Norman Lear shows. You know, I know that academics don’t really watch cable television or network television for whatever reason, but ABC in the last, say, four or five months has twice put on episodes of Norman Lear’s All in the Family and the Jeffersons. I’ve wondered why, myself. What’s the deal with the timing? To me that kind-of consensual, aspirational, civilly-grounded understanding of the public square continues to live on in shows like Parks and Recreation. I wrote a piece that connected explicitly you know All in the Family and Parks and Recreation. And you’re right about fracturing, and the fifteen seconds. All of that is going on simultaneously. But on network television there’s still this kind-of space for these sorts of shows. I don’t really necessarily think that’s the case now. I think a lot of people like The Good Place. I started watching that show when it first came on. I haven’t watched it very much since. I know people get a lot out of that, especially progressive individuals or academics. It’s philosophy and popular culture: “Yippee! We’re relevant! We matter!” or whatever. But to me, I think it still lives on in someone like (audio unclear) in the best possible sense, in the worst possible senses. I think if you look at that show, they’re saying that it’s local politics and it’s not supposed to be national, blah, blah, blah. But I think we see a lot of the limitations, and definitely some of the contributions, but to me more so the kind-of limitations of a progressive understanding of deliberation, and how things get done. So to be honest I think we’re still seeing attempts to bring together a bigger space to view these sorts of things. I think, in many ways, it would be nice if we had something like The Firing Line return in some capacity. I know the Brits have a show kind-of like this called Question Time. I think it would be nice . . . or necessary. I think it is necessary that we bring back this kind-of larger conversation space, just for the reasons you’re saying. Because things are so fractured.

DMcC: I have so many questions! I’m trying to decide which one comes next. So I’m hearing two things. First, in the context of your book, you talk about how the liberal move for creating a space for dialogue actually ended up potentially weakening the religious left in the end. And in what you just said a moment ago, I heard the suggestion that in order to create a national dialogue again, in order to create a space for that, we are replicating in some ways the moves that you identify with Lear. That All in the Family was a space where Archie Bunker could say things that were unpopular, and the characters around him responded as caricatures of the kind-of people of the day: here’s an angry person who has a racial identity(20:00); here’s an angry person which has a political affiliation. And that the creation of that show was a space for that dialogue. I’m hearing, in what you just said, that what we’ve lost in the fracturing is the ability to have that space for the dialogue. Is that the public square that we’re talking about? Is that the name for that space?

BR: It very much could be. Yes, that’s something that I could probably think a little bit more about, or think more through. I just think, with Lear, when I say things like public square, public space . . . because I’ve been so taken by . . . . There’s this book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning and the American Right. It’s a book of sociology, and she looks at something called a “deep story”. And it’s a conservative deep story that’s the primary focus of the book. And she looks at something called a “liberal deep story”. And that story is one of something called the public square. Let’s say . . . maybe not the public sphere because that has too much theoretical stuff going on. So I’ll just say, you know, this idea of the public square. So the deep story is that liberal progressives have built this thing called the public, the public square. You have libraries, you have schools, you have arts centres, you have cultural institutions, you have everything that you could possibly want. Things go smoothly. You have parks. But then at one point, as she says, marauders appear upon the proverbial gates and they look to privatise what is otherwise public and freely accessible. So, in many ways, to me the public square is part of kind-of the identity of progressive thought of politics. It’s just something that you think with, as you begin to imagine what the public looks like or what the square could kind-of look like. And so I suppose, in the early seventies, that looked one way, where you had three channels, you had hundreds of millions of people watching at one time. Maybe that public is different than the kind-of public that we have now, where, if we want to theorise a little bit, our notion of the public square . . . . But, to me, what I wanted to emphasise, it’s certainly a space – an imagined one – but it’s also sort-of a tool, or its sort-of something that progressives already kind-of think with in order to articulate a broader vision of the public good. And with someone like Lear, the public interest. Which is something that he defends in his programming very explicitly as something that’s constitutionally protected. So, to me, that’s sort-of fluid. But I wanted to emphasise that the square is this imaginative tool that progressives use to articulate visions of the broader good.

DMcC: I’m really curious about how we can think back about these moments that you’re talking about in the sixties and seventies. And, as a historian who is too young to have lived through those, I really wonder about our ability to explain to our students today, and to the public that might be younger than those eras, how the public square is different than it used to be. And we’ve mentioned already a fracture, right – the age fracture. We’ve mentioned, maybe, that there’s a technological component to it. I know that if we were economists talking we would be talking about huge inequality. If we were political theorists we might be talking about polarisation.

BR: Neoliberalism

DMcC: Neoliberalism, yes. But I’m certainly an American religious historian. And you may see yourself in that way, too. Is the culture war the thing for us, then? When we talk about the public square, in relation to what is the mechanism by which we think through the public square. So, for your book, it seemed that that was the case. Is that how you feel about it too?

BR: Yes. I mean that’s a great way of saying it. I use the metaphor of theatres. So the traditional sense is we have the European theatre, the theatre of the Pacific, you know, World War II sensibilities. But then I like to play around with the fact that that kind-of martial interaction came home with a vengeance. And that’s when we begin to talk about Kent State, that’s when we talk about disillusionment, that’s when we talk about Vietnam, that’s when we begin to talk about Watergate: a systematic falling out, when it comes to trust and belief in the fundamental institutions that theoretically ground American public life, or grounded American public life at the time. And, in many ways, the success of someone like Trump continues to take advantage of that. We destroy what we want to actually become a part of. Collateral damage doesn’t necessarily matter. So I know the word and the phrase gets used a lot. It gets used, you know, “culture war”: a lot of sociologists argue that there really is no such thing. That it’s really just kind-of all brow-beating, and it’s just pundits, and it’s all top down. And you look at the actual numbers and people are that divided, and blah, blah blah! I did an exam on this. I kind-of disagree with a lot of that (25:00). I think, if anything, it’s not really top down or bottom up – it’s simultaneous. I don’t think we have to make choices when it comes to something like that. I do think we do have to be particular and specific when it comes to this period of time – sixties and seventies to the present – when it comes to the culture war. So there are a number of wonderful books out there. Andrew Hartman has a number of wonderful books. I think someone like Stephen Prothero‘s helpful – but not necessarily in a completely helpful way. I think we can look at something like that and ask . . . we say we have something like the culture wars, we have the cultural war, and something like cultural warfare. And so, for me, what I try and do with my students, like you were saying, is . . . you know, if the public square was All in the Family at one point, maybe the public square is YouTube right now, or something like TikTok or Twitter, or something like that. So maybe that’s the public square. And so I use a lot of media in my classes, I use a lot of clips to give them a sense of a shared experience that is maybe obliterated over the past forty or fifty years. But yes, I think the nature . . . the all-consuming nature of the conflict, the exacerbation that has taken place because of social media, the “swirl” that Jason Bivens will speak soon of, in his forthcoming book on the embattled majority or embattled majorities. He’s just a wonderful thinker and scholar. That’s what I really think we need to turn to, analytically, in an inter-disciplinary way: pulling from critical theory, pulling from sociology, pulling from psycho-analysis. Because these are the times that we live in, and these are the tools that are necessary to understand our present conditions.

DMcC: I loved that in every answer here, I try to kind-of like hedge you a little bit into a box: “Would you like to get into this box here?” You’re like, “No. It’s much more complicated. There are so many more things than go in a box.” So, “Do you want to periodise things in this way?” “No, we need them all.” “Is the public square this way?” “No, it’s all of these things, too.” I love it, because I think it really speaks to the willingness to uphold all the level of complexity in the way that these things work. They simply are not reducible. They’re not . . . we cannot make the units with which we talk about the past so singular. And one of the real constructions of the culture war is that there are two sides. They all share the positions that are on one side or the other, and that there’s no-one in the middle. And that people on one end of the spectrum can’t disagree on a single issue, right? Or that they don’t count. That construction, right, is what you’re resisting in the questions. And I think it’s so useful. It’s such a useful resistance to offer for everyone. In order to create that complexity. One of the virtues, one of the values maybe that we think about – and this brings us back to Lear more explicitly – is civility: the ability to sustain, for a moment, something that is disagreeable for you, in the hopes that by having that dialogue, by being in that shared space, by having that experience that both parties will be improved in some way. And that takes a level of faith, right? That I’m going to hear something that I’m going to disagree with, but that I’m going to think seriously about it and consider it. And then on the far side of that that I’m going to come out better for it. Is that how we should think about Lear’s understanding of civility?

BR: Yes, I think it might be a little bit more complex, maybe a little more complicated,

DMcC: Nice! (Laughs).

BR: I don’t know, I only bring it up because I think it’s part of the very thing that has to be examined. Because I think in a theoretical way, yes. It’s exactly how all this is supposed to go. And you know, People for the American Way – the non-profit organisation he creates – doubles, triples and quadruples down on this notion. And it has been, really, since its origins in the early eighties. I mean, I have a little pamphlet that literally says: “How to mix religion and politics”. It’s very prescriptive. And so, to me, it’s not necessarily bad or negative that we have these ideas of civility, this or that. It’s really the prescriptive element that’s the problem. You know Lesley (audio unclear) is fine and great up until she makes you sign a friendship contract so that she’ll know you’re her friend forever. You know, that’s when it begins to turn in on itself. That’s when I begin to argue – as kind-of “the fall”, a little bit – is that, in a certain way, the progressive visions begin to come a little bit autocratic in some sense. Not all the time, certainly. But . . . go ahead, yeah.

DMcC: Is this the critique of the kind-of purity tests, right? For “You’re not a card-carrying progressive if ——–”, right? Or “You’re not a conservative if your position on abortion is x or y?” Right? Is that the sense that you’re getting at there?

BR: Yes and I would say that that’s something I’m looking at in my next project is the purity test. So, conservative individuals in the seventies called those Bible score cards (30:00). So that was one of the ways that we talked about the – quote-unquote – “rise” of the Christian right. I think that’s kind-of overblown. I think that’s something I’m going to get into in the forthcoming work. But really, if you look at something like that, the purity test, that was something that was created to begin to unseat progressive and democratic senators in the 1970s. And that’s something that Lear explicitly fights against in his somewhat well-known, People for the American Way PSA that he does, where he has the hard hat guy get out of the fork lift and basically say, “Why are we having preachers tell us how to vote? Why are we doing that? According to this preacher I’m seventy-five percent Christian, my wife is sixty percent and luckily my son is a hundred. Because he agrees with everything that they say.” So Lear explicitly was fighting against that very idea. But it has lived into our present, I contend, certainly in the sense that, yes, we use this score card to say “Ok, what do you think about abortion? Check, yes or no. What do you think about guns, yes or no?” It was a systematic judgement of a politician’s suitability to a given office, based on this section of issues going back to the social issue. These were the things that made the social issue the thing. And cultural warfare yourself, like you were saying, it seeks to polarise and it seeks to create these sides that are very much the mechanism that has produced polarisation, like you were saying. So it’s a series of wonderful questions. And I can’t remember where we started with that. But I would say that the resistance to kind-of this way, or that way, is very much the mechanism that keeps everything going. And I think certain sides take advantage of that. Something like, say . . . look what happened with Colin Kaepernick and the kneeling and how that turned from brutality to something about the military, which had nothing to do with anything. So I think those are the tactics that we have to handle a little bit better.

DMcC: I think it’s the move to make things simple and clear, right. That when, let’s say, you have a complicated issue like Colin Kaepernick, kneeling. That when he kneels he means one thing, and he may even say what he means – although he didn’t before he started kneeling. He did after he started kneeling. And then he has this moment where w the action has been received by the public in a way that was totally unintended. He tried to create a simple action for a simple cause. And everybody saw different competing simple things with him. So the whole story for us is really complex. Because we can tell it in all these different ways. But for all the agents, all the actors, who are invested in this, they were seeing it in simple ways. “You’re disrespecting the military” right? Or “This is not a space for such political actions.” So, they bring the complexity of the narrative down to these really simple moments. And that feels to me like the move of the culture wars, right? How can we condense all of America, who believes all these different things . . . ? In that moment, what can we do? We can make issues, and we can ask you, we can poll you in that, and check the box for you. And if we can do that, now we have consolidated the narrative. We have consolidated the power into these five issues, let’s say. If you had – as we come to the end of our time here – if you had to consolidate the issues for Lear, and for the story that you’re telling about the religious left that rose with him, and that also maybe fell because of how he had framed it, what would be the simple story there? Is there a way to wrap that up in a bow for us?

BR: Well that’s a wonderful question. So, sort-of maybe the singular unifying narrative? I mean I think there’s nothing . . . Let me put my thoughts together. That’s a really good question. I guess what I want to point to is that even though a lot of this takes place in the sixties and seventies, one of the benefits of doing a project like this is that I was able to talk to him. I was able to interview him a couple of times and still get a sense of what he’s fighting against, what he’s continuing to work on behalf of, you know. In the past he’s said that Donald Trump is the collective expression of America’ middle finger. The fact that he’s putting these shows on still. I think that there’s a wonderful amount of productive sort-of contribution when it comes to visions of the public life and his representations of the religious left. Because for a lot of people that’s not what they think of, off the top of their heads, when they think of the religious left. But I wanted to make that case explicitly because I saw his access to media and the networks as being a very influential place of influence (35:00). But I think, you know, with that influence and positivity in production came a certain sense of, maybe, presumptuousness; a certain assumption about, well, “If we put a bigot in front of everyone, they’ll realise what’s going on. They’ll get the satire, they’ll be in on the joke and we can all watch Archie Bunker disappear into the dustbins of history.” Which, obviously, as we know didn’t happen. If anything the very opposite has happened, which is in many ways, to an extent, how we have the kind-of presidential situation that we have today. So, if anything, I think it’s that lack of the acknowledgement of the complexity, the lack of the acknowledgement that something like All in the Family, which was an attempt to address discrimination, to address racism and bigotry in a positive way, but in many ways, oftentimes, created the very thing he was trying to fight against. And in many ways that’s kind-of the challenge that liberal progressives have to understand today, or figure out today, still. In the sense of clinging to gods and guns, and the slips of the tongue about deplorables. I think they’re still lost, to a certain extent, when it comes to talking to working class peoples. Daniel Bell speaks about a transition from class to culture. The progressives lose the sense, or the ability to speak to working class peoples over the course of the sixties and seventies. I think that Lear is sort-of the poster child of that transition. We’d rather laugh at Archie Bunker than actually understand his socio-economic conditions that produce the behaviours that we then put in front of the American people to laugh at, and to satirically present. Not unlike The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, or any of these things that have been produced since. So in many ways I guess that’s what I would say, is that a kind-of lacking of the acknowledgement or accountability of the very things that you’re trying to fight against, that you’re actually cultivating at the same time. And Lear helps us understand the process and falling off.

DMcC: Well, I’m so thankful for your time today and for the really interesting way that you think about the past, and the really interesting figures that I think you’re bringing to our attention. For those that maybe in the international audience: All in the Family – there are many, many clips that are available on YouTube for you to kind-of get a sense of it. And we’ll try to link to one or two of those when this goes live. We thank you so much for your time, Dr Rolsky. We hope we get to speak to you again.

BR: Yes I’d love that. Thank you very much, again, for having me.

If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with transcription, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

Descriptions of Religion as Explanations of Religion

In this week’s podcast, Kathryn Lofton and John Modern join Adam Miller for a conversation that hovers around the relationship between description and explanation in the study of religion, and the notion that the way scholars of religion think about their categories of analysis shapes what they say about a given set of data and how they say it. Given the entanglement of description and explanation, Lofton and Modern stress the responsibility scholars of religion have to know their material deeply, to be aware of the history of their field and categories of analysis, and to speak to issues/questions beyond their areas of speciality.

Kathryn Lofton is the Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Yale University. She is the author of Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, the soon-to-be-published Consuming Religion, and is currently working on the religious contexts of Bob Dylan. John Modern is the Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Franklin & Marshall College. He is the author of Secularism in Antebellum America and is currently pursuing two book projects—one on machines and cognitive science, and another on Devo and rubber. In addition to their solo-enterprises, they have worked together on a couple of things—Frequencies, a collaborative genealogy of spirituality, for example, and most recently a book series to be published by the University of Chicago Press titled Class 200.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, camping gear, masquerade masks, and more.

 

Can Religion Explain the KKK?

Describing the story of the Ku Klux Klan as “lovely”, as Kelly Baker does in her interview with David Lewis, is initially perplexing.  Fortunately, Baker goes on to clarify what she intends, noting that the Klan’s history of racism and violence in no way qualifies as “nice.”  Her description of the Klan’s “story” as “lovely,” according to Baker, does not refer to the Klan’s violent history, but to a vast print culture that enables methodological access to the ways Klan members constructed their “ideologies” and “worldviews” in the years spanning from 1915 to 1930. Citing her own motivation for studying the group, she tells Lewis that “lots of people say things about white supremacists, but understanding their motivations and why they’re drawn to these ideologies was not so much the context [or goal].”

In her book, Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (2011),  Baker uses the “second Klan’s” newspapers and magazines as “an invaluable entrée into the Klan’s worldview…”[1]  Importantly, her endeavor to understand the Klan’s “worldview” and “ideology” aims to problematize scholarly and media representations of the group as primarily uneducated, rural, male, and southern.  Despite the persistence of these representations, Baker shows that Klan membership consisted of southerners and northerners, men and women, the uneducated as well as “bankers, lawyers, dentists, doctors, ministers businessmen, and teachers.”  Rather than a “fringe” movement, then, Baker points to the widespread appeal of the racist and gendered agenda of the Klan leading up to the 1930s.

While much of the interview involves a discussion of the representations of the Klan in popular media, Baker’s book emphasizes scholarly representations of the group.  In her work, she makes an intriguing and important argument regarding specifically the omission of the Klan’s “religion” from scholarly analyses.  Scholars have, according to Baker, focused on economic, social, and political factors in explanations of the Klan, diagnosing it primarily as a movement motivated by “populist” anxieties and fears in a changing national environment.  Against the trend of dismissing the Klan’s “religion” as “false”, “inauthentic”, and thus analytically irrelevant, Baker finds it a necessary component in understanding how the group organized and mobilized a particular self-identity and national vision in the early twentieth century.

Baker emphasizes that a failure to take seriously the religious motivations and worldview of the Klan not only limits our understanding of the group.  More than that, the designation of their “religion” as false serves to conceal the uglier aspects of Protestant hostility and power in U.S. history.  Put simply, “true” Protestantism is preserved through the delineation of “false” appropriations of it by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.   Arguing that the Klan’s anti-black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic national vision possessed wide, non-fringe, appeal from 1915-1930, she asks, “How might narratives of American religious history be told if the Klan was integrated rather than segregated? If a white supremacist movement proves pivotal rather than fringe, then what might happen to our narratives of nation?”[2]  She suggests that a religious studies approach helps to make sense of Klan “religiosity”, as well as scholarly de-legitimizations of it.

Baker’s focus on the mechanisms through which scholarly representations participate in desired definitions and tellings of “religion” in “American” “history” is important work.   Indeed, the project that Baker mentions of separating “true religion” from “false religion” has a heavy presence in U.S. history and historiography.[3]  Yet, while Baker’s interventions regarding the need to take seriously the “religion” of the Klan is noted, I question whether she does not herself reinforce problematic epistemological and methodological assumptions about “religion.”  More precisely, does her search for the “worldview” and “ideology” of the Klan through its newspapers — absent a rigorous situating of these texts and their readers in particular economic, political, and geographic contexts — reproduce reductive and essentializing definitions of “religious” causation?

The project of distinguishing “true” from “false” religion, referenced by Baker, has most often referred to the normative and racist assumptions of such projects.[4]  Scholars have traced how religious theorization, definition, and comparison of “true” and “false” religion emerged in the context of colonial encounter and economic domination.   More precisely, these scholars have argued that theories of religion have been and continue to be connected to racist anthropological assumptions that deem racialized “others” incapable of rational “belief”[5] — whether in the writings of E.B. Tylor or in, arguably, the persistence of definitions of Protestant religiosity as more “liberal” and “democratic” than, say, Islam.

Baker’s invocation of the project of religious definition is quite different.  She does not point to how constructions of “true religion” are linked to racist anthropologies.  Rather, the argumentative implication of her work is that the scholarly denial of the Protestant “religion” of the Ku Klux Klan — a white supremacist group with its own racist anthropological theories — actually helps contemporary Protestants to conceal and forget the prevalence of Protestant racism in U.S. history.   It appears that her book, then, is in some way aimed at — even though she does not state this — helping readers recognize the prevalence of racist “worldviews” and “ideologies” through the un-fringing of the Klan’s Protestant religiosity.

The connections between religious theorization and imperial racism, however, might lead us to bigger questions regarding the extent of the relationship between Protestant religion, its definitional assumptions, and racism.  I say all of this not to dismiss Baker’s argument that we need to take seriously how the racist ideologies and worldviews of the Ku Klux Klan extend beyond those wearing white hoods and carrying torches.  We should take seriously, indeed, her argument that the dismissal of the Klan’s “religion” as false and inauthentic plays into the desire to occlude the ugly moments of Protestant and American racism.  Yet, she attaches this ugly history to a particular and identifiable ideological formulation, a particular worldview — whether found in the Klan of the early twentieth century or in the contemporary Islamophobia of the Tea Party.

Considering the long relationship between religious definition and racist anthropologies, we see that Protestant racism not only exists in the form of conservative “ideologies” and “worldviews.”  More importantly, and perhaps dangerously, it pervades the most well-intentioned and “enlightened” disciplinary practices.  Instead of locating white supremacy only in the persistence of the Klan’s “brand” today[6], it might be more productive for scholars of race and religion to consider the challenge posed by Black Lives Matter and other groups.  For, as they are showing in their confrontation of police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and the capitalist exploitation of black and brown bodies, U.S. racism runs deeper than a “worldview” that we can easily recognize and help others to see.  These challenges demand a self-reflexivity that goes beyond identifying racism in a worldview we do not possess.  More significantly, they call us to examine how our own institutional, disciplinary, and economic practices help to perpetuate a racist system.

[1] Kelly Baker, Gospel According to the Klan: The KKKs Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (U Kansas Press, 2011), p. 22.

[2] Ibid, 19.

[3] Baker, The Gospel of the Klan, p. 17.

[4] For a helpful overview of this issue in regards to the disciplinary subfield of American Religious History, see Finnbarr Curtis’s essay “The Study of American religions: critical reflections on a specialization” in Religon, no. 42, issue 3, 355-372 (June 21, 2012).  Found here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0048721X.2012.681875#.VuNZYJMrL-YFor another helpful work on the assumptions of religious comparison and the construction of the category “world religion”, see Tomoko Masuzawa’s The Inventions of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (U Chicago Press, 2005).

[5] To hear more about the distinction between race and ethnicity, as well as the co-construction of religion and race as social categories, it will be helpful to listen to Rudy Busto’s podcast interview on The Religious Studies Project titled “Race and Religion: Intertwined Social Constructions,” found here: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/race-and-religion-intertwined-social-constructions/.  Also, see his book King Tiger:  The Religious Vision of Reies López Tijerina (U New Mexico Press, 2006)

[6] Baker, The Gospel of the Klan, 249.

Rebecca Rushdoony Once Condemned a Cat as a Heretic

Rebecca Rushdoony once condemned a cat as a heretic.

The eldest child of R.J. Rushdoony, an American theologian dedicated to helping Christians learn to build God’s kingdom on earth, Rebecca was mad the stray cat wouldn’t stay put. So she pronounced the cat damned, much to her father’s amusement.

This is one of only a few family anecdotes in Michael J. McVicar’s book, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, the first in-depth history of Rushdoony and the religious movement he started. This might not seem remarkable. McVicar’s highly anticipated work is an intellectual history. It examines Rushdoony’s theology and the influence that theology has had on Christian conservatives. The focus is not on the small, intimate moments of family life.

It is worth remarking on, though, because Rushdoony was deeply invested in the idea of the importance of the family. His life’s work was aimed at changing the world. He thought that change would happen through Christian families.

As McVicar explains in his interview with the Religious Studies Project, Rushdoony’s plan for transforming the world started with biblically “reconstructed” fathers.

“They are going to take control of their families,” McVicar says, “by applying the strictures of biblical law onto first themselves, the male agent, then onto their wives, then onto their children. Rushdoony’s idea was that over time, this would create interlocking networks of godly families that would eventually swell to fill the earth and create the kingdom of God on earth.”

If Rushdoony tried to live out that vision in his own life, with his own family, it is not examined in McVicar’s book.

Christian Reconstruction is not the study of a culture-changing patriarch. It isn’t a book about a father reconstructing himself and his family according to theonomy, God’s law. Rushdoony’s familial relationships and roles are noted only briefly here, evidence of the complexity of his personal character, before receding completely from the narrative.

In this way, McVicar’s historical work on Rushdoony dissents from Rushdoony’s idea of historical change. Christian Reconstruction, the book, starts from and demonstrates a theory of history different than that of Christian Reconstructionism, the movement. McVicar focuses on social networks and institutions as the primary agents of historical change. He does this with great acuity. He is persuasive, not just explaining Rushdoony’s theological work but also in implicitly arguing he can explain this history without attending to Rushdoony’s life and times as a patriarch.

There are compelling reasons to attend to this disjunction. McVicar manages to engage the reader with the ideas that Rushdoony considered crucial even before explicating them. He gives readers an opportunity to examine the generally unreflected-upon assumptions at work in every historical narrative, whether it be recent American religious history or an answer the question, “How was your day?” He gives readers, further, ground to critically examine some of Rushdoony’s basic ideas about the historical change he was attempting to effect.

McVicar also calls attention to this disjunction—which is not to say contradiction—in Rushdoony’s own thought and practice. With unprecedented access to Rushdoony’s correspondence, journals, and unpublished papers, McVicar is able to document Rushdoony’s daily intellectual life, looking not just at what he thought but also how.

What these sources show, McVicar writes, is “a singularly focused, almost mechanical man driven by an all-consuming ambition to build ‘a world-wide ministry through writing.’” Even in his most personal diaries, Rushdoony isn’t particularly interested in applying biblical law to his family. Rather, “Rushdoony’s diaries disproportionately recount his confrontations with theological critics, intellectual ne’er-do-wells at academic conferences, battles with Presbyterian officials, or run-ins with ignorant lay-people,” McVicar writes. “The result is a written record that displays a man more likely to note anger over personal slights and the perceived intellectual vapidity of his enemies than he was to document the happier moments of his life” (11).

Rushdoony, as he emerges in McVicar’s narrative, does not seem inspired by his own vision of biblical families. He seems more compelled by some of the conspiracy-minded thinking that permeated right-wing thought in the mid 20th century.

He was very interested, for example, in a 19th century British group named the Fabian Society. One of the fascinating details McVicar turns up in his archival research is multiple versions of an unpublished essay on the Fabian Society, showing that Rushdoony believed their gradualist and reformist approach to advancing socialism had been profoundly influential. In a memo circulated among conservative think tanks, Rushdoony used the Fabians as a model for what conservatives should be doing. Even as he believed that the kingdom of God would come through reconstructed families, Rushdoony wrote that think tanks could dramatically change the course of history if only it could really coherently unify right-thought with right-practice.

“History,” McVicar quotes Rushdoony, “has never been commanded by majorities but only by dedicated minorities, and the need today is a strategy for the development of that minority into an instrument of thought and action power” (64).

Rushdoony spent large amounts of energy criticizing people who agreed with him on particular issues for their failure to sufficiently unify their thought and action. He thought most Christians and conservatives had under-theorized their activities. At the same time, he struggled to find effective ways to put his theory into practice.

Sometimes, his practice seemed entirely disconnected from his theory.

McVicar looks at Rushdoony’s failed attempts to work inside academia. He looks at Rushdoony’s failed efforts to work with modernist and fundamentalist Presbyterian denominations and then his ill-fated struggle to gain influence over the flagship journal of American evangelicalism, Christianity Today. McVicar follows Rushdoony’s varying success working with right-wing political organizations. He looks at how Rushdoony tried to found a Christian Reconstructionist college, but only managed to build a one-man research organization. He looks, further, at Rushdoony’s conflicted relationships with a younger generation of Christian intellectuals he mentored, notably Greg Bahnsen, John Whitehead, and Gary North.

Even as Rushdoony wrote that the kingdom of God would come through reconstructed families, he was actively engaged in a lot of different ways of trying to influence society.

And some of them were successful.

“Christian Reconstruction, in some important ways, but limited ways, contributed to what Americans would now think of the Christian Right or the New Christian right,” McVicar tells RSP. “I … got to see exactly how much of an influence he had on the rise of things like the religious right, the moral majority, the Rutherford Institute, a handful of really important think tanks, legal advocacy firms, and public defense legal firms that developed in the 1980s. I got to see his influence here, and it did reveal a network of relationships that simply had not been covered in this history before.”

One of the most significant ways Rushdoony had an influence, McVicar shows, was by having his ideas appropriated. Sometimes his thought was adopted quite faithfully, as in some the more conservative streams of the homeschool movement. Other times, the ideas were adapted freely, as was the case with televangelist Pat Robertson, for example, and Tim LaHaye’s somewhat secretive religious-right group, the Council for National Policy. “From Rushdoony’s perspective,” McVicar writes, “CNP participants simultaneously stole his ideas and denied their fundamental truth” (210).

In this way, the story about Rebecca Rushdoony and the cat turns out to be somewhat important. As the theologian was theorizing how Christian patriarchy would bring about the kingdom of God, his daughter was demonstrating the kind of influence he would actually have. She took Rushdoony’s words and repurposed them…

In that case, to condemn a cat as a heretic.

References

McVicar, Michael J. Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2015.

The Risks of Reconstruction

This week’s interview with Florida State University Assistant Professor Michael McVicar highlights two important, but competing elements of recent work on Christian conservatism in the 20th century United States. On the one hand, McVicar’s scholarship fills an important gap in the existing literature on conservative Christian figures. Despite significant advances in the last decade of scholarship, the networks of influence that lay behind the rise of the Religious Right are not fully established. McVicar does the vital work of connecting theological figures like R. J. Rushdoony to the movement’s figureheads like Pat Robertson. Generally, this kind of scholarship lags behind biographical or cultural approaches documenting the broader shifts in the American context. This delay is caused by something that is easier to identify than the diverse elements of the rise of the Religious Right–the problem of primary scholarship on recent conservative figures. The challenges McVicar experienced and the concessions he made to complete his work on Rushdoony appear natural, but they are also highly reflective of the challenges facing further inquiry in this area. If there is a wealth of scholarship today on the Religious Right, it is also the case that much of it treats its subjects altogether too forgivingly. Thus, the work of reconciling the movement’s rise with elements of its racist and sexist past seems to be forever left to other works and other scholars.

First, let me commend McVicar for giving an excellent overview of the rise of reconstructionism as an outgrowth of the fundamentalist/modernist split of the post WWI era. As we will all soon be able to read in his work Christian Reconstruction (UNC-CH, 2015), McVicar shows how theologian R. J. Rushdoony helped establish critical elements of the theology that Billy Graham, Frank Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others used to promote turning away from secular values toward Christian ones. Unlike their liberal and moderate counterparts who saw cultural compromise as inevitable, conservative American Christians redoubled their efforts to be as Jesus described in John 17:16 and avoid being “of the world.”

Reconstructionism was a religious revolution that sought to overturn secular governance in favor of (selected features of) Biblical law. The Christian homeschool movement, for instance, coalesced as a response to the secularization of the public school system, particularly in the wake of court decisions in the 1940s-1960s that reshaped the boundaries between religion and state in the classroom. McVicar lays the Christian response to these defeats squarely at Rushdoony’s feet: “He challenges a lot of Christians to think in legal terms…. Here he is instrumental in setting up or creating a context in which some of the major Christian public defense advocacy firms begin to develop in the late 1970s.” Thus we get the Rutherford Institute and later Paula Jones’ legal case against President Clinton. It is a multi-faceted network that remains characterized by parachurch leadership, extra-church organizations, and a strong affinity toward the values that were identified with the Republican party by the early 1980s.

Today the influence of these ideas persists. In a recent U.S. election cycle, some argued that the legacy of Rushdoony lay in the way that Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry adopted dominionist models that were rooted in the theocratic legalism that reconstructionism brought to the Republican party. (See, for instance, Michelle Goldberg’s work at the Daily Beast, Julie Ingersoll  and Anthea Butler at Religion Dispatches, or Sarah Posner at Salon). So, the legacy of Rushdoony survives, albeit in heavily modified versions that combine a back-to-basic’s theocratic vision with Republican populist rhetoric. With such widespread roots, McVicar is surely making an important contribution by filling in an otherwise-absent backstory.

However, though McVicar’s stands alongside other recently published works on 20th century U.S. Christianity (see the brief appended bibliography), one thing that stands out regarding Rushdoony are the sacrifices that scholars seem to need to make in order to discuss controversial contemporary figures. McVicar identifies the challenges he had obtaining unfettered access to Rushdoony’s private materials at the Chalcedon Foundation. “Over time I gained a little bit of trust and support from them,” he says, “but they still were nervous that I might be coming in to do a smear job on Rushdoony and were really reluctant to let me see his personal correspondence and his diaries.” Only after McVicar submitted his work-in-progress and had published a relatively neutral piece on Rushdoony did Chalcedon grant him permission to access additional unpublished materials. While we don’t know the terms of McVicar’s use of Rushdoony’s private documents, given the inflammatory content of Rushdoony’s public works, we might reasonably expect they could paint him in decidedly negative strokes. So, what do we do when our access to documents is contingent on our neutrality? How much of what we can say about the rise of the Religious Right is similarly hindered by restrictions of speech or limited by access to sensitive personal documents?

I certainly will not fault McVicar for the way Christian Reconstruction turned out. A moderately even-tempered portrayal of Rushdoony in his historical context is no small feat. I would rather have an imperfect portrait to help bridge the gaps in the scholarship than be without one because I insisted on some kind of brutal exposé. And yet I would also expect the Chalcedon’s gate-keeping to inevitably color such a project. The question for the rest of us may be just how much we are willing to be a part of the historical revisionism that sterilizes controversial figures by limiting our ability to discuss their deplorable views on race, sex, colonialism, etc. When we know a figure has been controversial on such topics, are we not obliged to discuss them?

Since McVicar connects Rushdoony directly to the Quiverfull movement that has in recent weeks sent the Internet ablaze with commentary on the Josh Duggar scandal, these questions are also not merely hypothetical nor hyperbole. What should the role of scholars be in interpreting and evaluating these groups? Must we be methodological agnostic about their vices? If we abstain in order to present our subjects neutrally, then what other obligations fall on us. Must we wrestle with Rushdoony’s blatant racism and misogyny? Ignoring them hardly seems neutral, but how does one address them without bias? How can we do so without offending those that hold our primary source documents? As is the case with nearly every figure in the Religious Right, there is ample kindling for the flames. At what point will academic scholarship feel free to raise these issues? And what difference will they make for the study of the Religious Right?

In a recent ethics course I taught, I relied on Sarah McFarland Taylor’s Green Sisters to discuss the intersection of Catholic religious obligations and environmentalism. Taylor retells the story of Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan, who supposedly gave a commencement speech at a high school in New York whose only lines were “Know where you stand and stand there.” In the moments where the rubber meets the road, I wonder whether more of us as scholars are becoming unable to know where we stand, unable to stand where we feel we should, and even unable to feel like we can stand where we are. The climate of academic crisis in the United States makes scholarship itself feel at risk. Who among us in the future will still feel secure enough to wrestle with the obvious spectres that haunt our work, but which speaking about brings risks to us and to our continued access to sources?

Selected Recent Scholarship on the Rise of the Religious Right

Christian Reconstruction

Rousas John Rushdoony might be one of the most important Christian theologians you’ve never heard of. As the primary architect of a unique version of conservative protestantism referred to as Christian Reconstructionism, Rushdoony worked for several decades to implement Old Testament Biblical law in contemporary America. Though he never realized his vision, and though his movement largely died with him, Rushdoony remains an important figure because his comparably extreme vision for Christian America challenged contemporary conservatives on a number of religious and theological issues and helped pull them farther to the political right

In this interview, Professor Michael McVicar discusses Rushdoony and Christian Reconstruction. McVicar gained unprecedented access to Rushdoony’s personal files, archives, and correspondence, which provided invaluable data for McVicar’s book on Rushdoony.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, hamster cages, vintage VHS tapes, and more.

Demons, Exoticism, and the Academy

Something that strikes me about contemporary spiritual warfare is how it’s not so radically different thematically in its interests and its languages than a lot of contemporary American religion. So the argument that ‘this is something out in left field’ really isn’t true, I don’t think. -Sean McCloud

 Dave McConeghy’s interview with Sean McCloud offers so many potential avenues of discussion that it is difficult to pick only one; spiritual warfare is, after all, one of the most-discussed theological issues in contemporary Evangelicalism/Charismaticism today, yet one of the least-discussed points in the Academy: a point which leads McCloud to quip that “most scholars of American religion are completely blind to [spiritual warfare],” and that the study of it still engenders reactions of “Ugh. Why would we study those silly people?”

Often, discussions of American religion seem to start with Cotton Mather and end with Billy Graham, and, in my experience, spiritual warfare is indeed often seen as something that is “out in left field,” a “fringe” practice, or “weird” religion. (For those unfamiliar with the term, “spiritual warfare” refers both to the battle waged between God and demons, as well as the battle waged between Christians and demons.) Many (if not most) of the major texts in the academic canon of American religious history—even those books focused exclusively on church history—omit the practice altogether.  So McCloud is right: while a supernaturalistic demonology may seem exotic to those who have not often encountered it, there is a large swath of Christians who consider spiritual warfare to be both frequent and mainstream.

 Pervasiveness in Evangelical Circles

If there is any useful statistical data on the demonological practices of present-day Evangelicals, I am unaware of it.[1] However, if we look to some of the largest and most influential churches, pastors, or texts in the American landscape, spiritual warfare seems to have a kind of omnipresence. Take Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, for instance, which has eleven branches in the Seattle area alone, in addition to being the “flagship” of the Acts 29 Network, an umbrella group for more than 500 likeminded ministries.[2]  Driscoll asserts that “demons are real and they attack God’s people,” and has developed a rigorously organized theology that seems to have gained a lot of traction, particularly among those who believe in demons yet shun what they see as a kind of looser, laissez-faire mentality amongst their more Charismatic counterparts. It’s worth noting that Driscoll’s demonology has even made its way outside of Christian circles, in the form of a Nightline debate with Deepak Chopra and “heretic” Carlton Pearson.

Similarly, Bethel Church is among the most influential Charismatic groups today, if not the most influential. Spiritual warfare is far from a “fringe” practice for them, nor for Charismatics in general. The many books that Bethel pastors have published are full of the “prayer walks” and “generational inheritances” that McCloud mentioned.  Beni Johnson, for instance, details how she led a prayer walk and ritual cleansing of “Panther’s Meadow,” a space on Mt. Shasta that she claims is used for “ungodly practices,” by which she means New Age and occult spirituality.[3] According to her story, the Pagans practicing there go feral as a result of her prayers, hissing and fleeing the scene. And then there’s Kris Vallotton’s Spirit Wars, in which demonic, generational inheritances are a central feature of the text. At one point, Vallotton claims that when his mother was a young woman, a fortune teller had read tarot cards for her. This reading had caused a curse, which released demons to kill his father, haunt his mother, and which were now haunting he himself in the present day.[4] While these specific cases are on the more extreme end, the point here is that for Bethel and likeminded Charismatics (of which there are many), demons are a very real threat that must be dealt with.

There are, of course, countless other figures we could examine to demonstrate salience: John Hagee, T. D. Jakes, Rick Joyner, Joyce Meyer, to name only a few of the prevailing voices today. And McCloud and McConaghey are right to identify that this isn’t something brand new, but something that has been developing for quite some time. Tanya Luhrmann’s recent book on Evangelical experientiality which depicts an increase in spiritual warfare amidst the spiritual innovation of the 1970s and Cuneo’s argument that The Exorcist birthed the rise of deliverance movements in the years following the film are both legitimately observing real social trends, yet what we think of spiritual warfare today has been a part of the American landscape for much longer than this; whatever spike in spiritual warfare occurred in this period, it was working with material that was already present in the mix.[5]

This, of course, only addresses the contemporary forms, for if one looks deeper into church history, its absence is the exception rather than the rule. Athanasius’ Life of St. Anthony, for instance, is almost entirely about spiritual warfare, from the ritual cleansing of Pagan temples to demonic manifestations of corporeal abuse.[6] Nancy Caciola has given a wonderfully insightful account of demon possessions (and treatments) that antedate the medieval witch scares.[7] Heiko Obermann’s biography of Martin Luther depicts him as constantly at war with the devil, not just in mind, but physically as well: Satan troubled his bowels and thumped his stove.[8] John Wesley, Thomas More, St. John of the Cross, even the Gnostics had their demons in one form or another. Spiritual warfare doesn’t look the same in every case (and often quite different from how contemporary Evangelicals practice it), but the point here is that demons and spiritual warfare aren’t something that snake handlers invented just yesterday, it is a major thread woven through the entire history of Christianity, and one that continues to be woven through it today.

 Comparable Trends

McCloud’s most important point is that spiritual warfare isn’t some outlying fringe practice, but one that completely dovetails a wider world of supernaturalism in contemporary America. Part of the problem of the Cotton-Mather-to-Billy-Graham model of American religious history is that it tends to emphasize the Scottish Common Sense Realist, rationalist, denominational, naturalist, cessationist leitmotif of Calvinist Protestantism. As he pointed out, there is something to be said for contemporary media presenting demonology as something strange and outdated, and of course, these media are part of the issue here: as he argued elsewhere, the mainstream/fringe dichotomy has largely been constructed by those authoring the media, who themselves privileged a white, middle class Protestantism.[9]

In recent years, this Cotton-Mather-to-Billy-Graham model has gradually been getting more complicated, as some scholars have started drawing attention to the supernaturalist counternarrative that has always existed alongside rationalism, but in terms of popular perception—including that among many academics—there still seems to be a sense that American religion shuns these hierophantic irruptions. Though we have largely abandoned the idea that “religion” means five world faiths that can be broken into neat little denominations, we often tend to still organize our research (and faculty posts) along such lines. Embedded in that inherited arrangement is decades of scholarship that has omitted the supernatural for ideological reasons: first, in seeing all religions through the lens of Victorian Protestantism, the supernatural has traditionally been deemphasized in favor of texts, beliefs, and rituals, and then second, why dwell on demons, ghosts, or channeled spirits when the juggernaut of secularization is going to eradicate them anyway? The religion of the future was to be logical, heady, and amenable to scientific narratives—the collected repertoires of our fields were forged in this mindset, and though secularization may have fallen by the wayside, it seems like topical reorientation has been slower to acclimate.

Closing

Spiritual warfare is ubiquitous, both in the contemporary American Evangelical milieu, but also in the broad and far-reaching history of religion. It is worth examination, for numerous reasons—phenomenologically, it’s a central part of the experience for many, both as individuals and as groups. Ideologically, it can enshrine social opposition as demonic. Ritually, it can be a means of demarcating space. Sociologically, it can establish the boundaries of group membership.[10] Psychologically, it can be a means of interpreting and moving past one’s own moral failings. Theologically, it is central to theodicies. No matter how you cut it, spiritual warfare is important and needs to be addressed as such.

 Bibliography

Bramadat, Paul. The Church on the World’s Turf: An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Brown, Candy Gunther. Testing Prayer: Science and Healing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Caciola, Nancy. Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.

Cuneo, Michael W. American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty. New York: Doubleday, 2002.

Luhrmann, Tanya M. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

McCloud, Sean. Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, & Journalists, 1955-1993. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Obermann, Heiko. Luther: Man Between God and the Devil. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.

 

 


[1] There is a Pew survey from 2008 which registered 68% of Americans as believing “that angels and demons are active in the world today,” but this says nothing about whether they actually believe those demons ought to be confronted, let alone how they should be confronted. I am unaware of any surveys that pry deeper than this one. http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf

[2] Such “networks” are arguably replacing the model of Protestant denominationalism, allowing for individual churches to maintain ideological autonomy while still remaining linked to other churches with similar viewpoints. See Candy Gunther Brown’s Testing Prayer for a more thorough explanation. Candy Gunther Brown, Testing Prayer: Science and Healing, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 21-63.

[3] Beni Johnson, The Happy Intercessor, (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc, 2009), 95.

[4] Kris Vallotton, Spirit Wars: Winning the Invisible Battle Against Sin and the Enemy, (Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2012), 160-161.

[5] Tanya M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 26, 30-32; Michael W. Cuneo, American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty, (New York: Doubleday, 2002).

[6] Athansius, The Life of St. Anthony and Letter to Marcillinus, ed. Robert C. Gregg, (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980.)

[7] Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006).

[8] Heiko Obermann, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 104-109.

[9] Sean McCloud, Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, & Journalists, 1955-1993, (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 4-11.

[10] It’s noteworthy that in Paul Bramadat’s ethnography of a Canadian Intervarsity Christian Fellowship chapter, this was one of the more explicit ways he interpreted their spiritual warfare as functioning. “The sense of living among, if not being besieged by, often demonically cozened infidels contributes to what Martin Marty has described as a form of “tribalism” which unites the group…in short, because spiritual warfare discourse is based on a sharp dualism between the saved and the unsaved, it helps believers to retrench their sense of superiority (since that is what it amounts to) and to accentuate the fundamental otherness of non-Christians.” Paul Bramadat, The Church on the World’s Turf: An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2000), 115.