by Phillip Luke Sinitiere
Today completes my interview with Dan Williams about his book God's Own Party. For reference, you can read part 1 of the interview here and here. Read part 2 in its entirety here.
BB: You are one of a number of scholars writing about the Christian Right, thoughtfully archiving and critically reflecting on its history (and in many ways what is happening currently). For interested readers, how do you situate your work alongside other scholars of the Christian Right?
DW: Most of the other studies of the Christian Right that have been published recently (or that will soon appear in print) are narrower in scope than my work. Darren Dochuk has produced a highly insightful study of evangelical political mobilization in California during the postwar era, and Steven Miller has published an excellent study of Billy Graham’s role in creating a Republican South. Other scholars have studied the Cold War’s influence on the Christian Right, the place of megachurch pastors in contemporary political culture, or gender issues in conservative evangelicalism, among other topics. Many of those studies are excellent resources, and I think that readers who are interested in the topic may find it helpful to read those works alongside mine. I am certainly the beneficiary of a larger trend in the profession that is giving new attention to political conservatism and religion in postwar America. I have gained a lot of insights from conversations with other scholars in the field and from the works that they have produced. I look forward to more studies of conservative evangelicalism from emerging scholars in the field during the next few years. But most of these studies do not offer the breadth that my survey of the movement does (nor do they claim to do so).
My work is the most comprehensive, broadly based narrative history of the Christian Right currently in print. As a result, I think that my work highlights connections, long-term trends, religious nuances, and diversity within the movement that previous studies may have overlooked. One of the central themes of my book is that the contemporary Christian Right has deep historical roots. It did not emerge merely as a reaction to the cultural shifts of the 1970s. Instead, its success depended on alliances with the Republican Party and religious developments that had started decades earlier. In order to understand the Christian Right, one must understand something about the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s, the impact of World War II and the Cold War on conservative Protestants, and the division – and then reconciliation – between fundamentalists and evangelicals in the 1950s, as well as shifts in their understandings of race, gender roles, and the place of Catholics in the nation. I think that my work provides this.
I also emphasize the partisan history of the movement to a greater degree than most other scholars do. A central theme of the book is the argument that the Christian Right’s success depended on its alliance with the Republican Party, so the story of the Christian Right is essentially the story of the making of this alliance. Thus, my book draws on the archives of presidential libraries and evangelical publications to trace the development of this partisan alliance in much greater detail than most other works on the Christian Right do.