Evangelical Loyalties Reconsidered: A Roundtable on Sex, Power, and the Media in the Study of American Evangelicalism

AHA Session 6
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
State Ballroom (Palmer House Hilton, Fourth Floor)
Timothy E. W. Gloege, independent scholar
Elizabeth Dolfi, Columbia University
Suzanna Krivulskaya, University of Notre Dame
L. Benjamin Rolsky, Lehigh University
Daniel Silliman, Valparaiso University

Session Abstract

Current events have challenged both popular and academic conceptions of evangelicalism in general and “the evangelical” in particular. As critics continue to interpret the meaning, implications, and news reports surrounding the ever-elusive “evangelical vote,” historians and ethnographers of religion assume the task of providing definitional guidance for a subject characterized largely by its less-than-straightforward appearance in American public life. In light of these analytical challenges, this roundtable brings together historians of American religion, media, gender, and sexuality to discuss how American evangelicals have responded to changing political realities, social norms, and media crises in the past, and what impact these changes have had on the contemporary study of evangelicalism in particular and on American religious history more broadly.

To this end, Dr. L. Benjamin Rolsky first examines how the recent religious past has informed our contemporary notions of what an evangelical is and how best to understand their collective ascent in the public square by analyzing Gallup’s influential declaration of 1976 as “The Year of the Evangelical” as well as contemporaneous periodicals and academic analyses. Dr. Daniel Silliman investigates how “evangelical” emerged as a specific book-market category in the 1970s. For Silliman, a book history approach aptly illustrates how market incentives at once organized a religious identity committed to women’s sexual fulfillment while cultivating opposition to feminism and the sexual revolution more broadly. Suzanna Krivulskaya explores how evangelicals have responded to various sex-related media crises, and what these scandals have meant for evangelicalism as a movement since the 1970s. Lastly, Elizabeth Dolfi’s ethnographic presentation traces the ongoing legacies of these historical developments through an analysis of the circulation of rescue narratives within the contemporary evangelical anti-trafficking movement. Chair Dr. Timothy Gloege will bring the presentations to a close by summarizing the contemporary challenges of studying evangelicalism and its history, in addition to outlining some possible future avenues of research and investigation.

Collectively, this roundtable illustrates how questions and methods of gender, sexuality, power, and the media can and must inform the historical study of American evangelicalism. As such, the participants will encourage and facilitate discussion with the audience by way of shorter and thus more conversational presentations relative to the traditional paper session. This discussion will invite audience members to offer their own insights on questions of sources, archives, and methodology within the broader historical study of American evangelicalism in hopes of charting an interdisciplinary agenda for future works. The roundtable is also intentionally organized to create scholarly dialogue across various strata of academic status--from graduate students to early career scholars and a senior commentator--so as to cultivate a robust discussion about the study of American religious history through the prism of modern American evangelicalism.

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