"Evangelicalism Rebounds in Academe"



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BY KATHRYN LOFTON

Another day, another breathless report of the evangelical incursion. This time, our journalistic source is an admirable one: Rice University sociologist D. Michael Lindsay (author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite) writing for the May 9, 2008 issue of The Chronicle Review. Of familiar pitch is the exclamatory that “evangelicalism is rebounding,” the statistical joy at evangelical Ivy League elitism, and the inevitable ethnic revelation (“I found that 90 percent of the members of the Yale chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ are Asian-American”).

After five paragraphs of such rehearsal, the article transitions to a narrative useful for any students of evangelicalism and fundamentalism seeking quotations on the mind(s) of those Christian men (and women, though fewer of those are imagined) pressing into hallowed halls. Lindsey serves up a summation of “evangelical scholarship” and its meeting of the “intellectual mainstream.” Included in the primer is an exuberant presentation of evangelical scholars, scholarship on evangelicals, and evangelical scholarship. The piece presumes an anxious readership, liberal and loathing of the menace that seems to have more money, more organizational power, and more disregard for plural postulates than the dominant academic mainstream. To that cohort, Lindsay supplies a comforting reminder and some clarification. His point is quelling: most of the evangelicals who have invaded liberal arts lands are of a cosmopolitan bent, and eager to keep the apple cart (his metaphor) upright. The question is whether the apple cart, frightened of its new handler, may collapse under the weight of presumptive infection. Lindsay says, rightly: probably not.

2 comments:

Edward J Blum at: May 12, 2008 at 9:09 AM said...

In the article, Lindsay writes, "Evangelicals are the most discussed but least understood group in American society." I would like to see some verifiable proof (since he is a sociologist) for either of those points. Evangelicals are the "most discussed" group in society? I doubt this very much. Would a study of media coverage of groups bear this out? Would a study of political discussions bear this out? Again, I doubt it very much. Then second, evangelicals are the "least understood" group in the United States. Hmm... what about men and women of color; what about gays and lesbians, what about Mormons?

caleb jd maskell at: May 12, 2008 at 10:07 AM said...

My question of Lindsay's work regards how long the term "Evangelical" will remain useful at all as an umbrella category for people as diverse as Mark Noll and the average avid devotee of the Left Behind series. Given all of the freight with which "evangelicalism" is laden, I wonder what investment Lindsay's "cosmopolitan" evangelicals actually have in the term.

I suspect that some of the answer may come down to the interesting issues raised by the political/media wet-squib "An Evangelical Manifesto" that was released last week by a thoughtful group of Christians who want to reclaim the term. Alan Jacobs WSJ critique of the Manifesto offers some important reality-checks, but I think that the document itself might be useful to read in contrast to Lindsay's approach, which I think can only end in subset-upon-subset hyphenation of various "types" of evangelicals seen lurking, alone/together, in various halls of various sorts of power.

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