Bible-Carrying Christians: Conservative Protestants and Social Power

Oxford University Press
Free sample

In the United States, there are hundreds of thousands of Protestant churches whose members habitually carry their Bibles with them. These churches--often referred to as "evangelical" or "fundamentalist"--play a crucial role in shaping American society. In this book, David Watt draws on years of fieldwork to present an elegant reinterpretation of the way that conservative Protestants influence American politics and culture. At the heart of the book is a sympathetic, but far from uncritical, analysis of those forms of social power that are assumed to be natural among Bible-carrying Christians. While outsiders often presuppose that evangelical Christians take for granted the authority of certain institutions (among them the American state, corporations, ministers, men, and heterosexuals), Watt argues that the reality is far more complex. This is a concise and lively book that sheds new light on the way that Bible-carrying Christians influence the way that people in America think--and avoid thinking--about social power.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Mar 14, 2002
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Pages
176
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ISBN
9780198023289
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Conservatism & Liberalism
Political Science / Public Policy / Social Policy
Religion / Christian Life / General
Religion / Christianity / Protestant
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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David Harrington Watt's Antifundamentalism in Modern America gives us a pathbreaking account of the role that the fear of fundamentalism has played—and continues to play—in American culture. Fundamentalism has never been a neutral category of analysis, and Watt scrutinizes the various political purposes that the concept has been made to serve. In 1920, the conservative Baptist writer Curtis Lee Laws coined the word "fundamentalists." Watt examines the antifundamentalist polemics of Harry Emerson Fosdick, Talcott Parsons, Stanley Kramer, and Richard Hofstadter, which convinced many Americans that religious fundamentalists were almost by definition backward, intolerant, and anti-intellectual and that fundamentalism was a dangerous form of religion that had no legitimate place in the modern world. For almost fifty years, the concept of fundamentalism was linked almost exclusively to Protestant Christians. The overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the establishment of an Islamic republic led to a more elastic understanding of the nature of fundamentalism. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Americans became accustomed to using fundamentalism as a way of talking about Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists, as well as Christians. Many Americans came to see Protestant fundamentalism as an expression of a larger phenomenon that was wreaking havoc all over the world. Antifundamentalism in Modern America is the first book to provide an overview of the way that the fear of fundamentalism has shaped U.S. culture, and it will lead readers to rethink their understanding of what fundamentalism is and what it does.
Through a collection of essays, Fundamentalism: Perspectives on a Contested History explores the ways in which the concept of global fundamentalism does and does not illuminate developments in modern Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. At issue is whether, beyond the specific milieu of American Protestantism in the early decades of the twentieth century, the word ‘fundamentalism’ captures something important on a global scale that is not captured—or not as well—by other words. Readers will quickly discover that in exploring this issue the book is “at war with itself.” In Fundamentalism Simon A. Wood and David Harrington Watt have deliberately assembled a range of voices that is reflective of the broad spectrum of views scholars have offered on the topic, from those who find the concept not merely helpful but also important, those who have concerns about it but do not reject it, those who find that it has been misapplied in critical instances, and those who simply find it unhelpful and lacking in any meaningful specificity or content. While there are more than two perspectives presented, Wood and Watt identify two very broad groups of scholars from each end of the spectrum: those who find the concept illuminating and those who do not. The book does not privilege or advocate either of these positions, nor does it attempt to resolve the numerous problems that scholars on both sides of the debate have identified with the concept of global fundamentalism. Rather, it presents some of the key arguments on both sides of the contemporary debate. If it thereby provides readers with a sense of the current state of the discourse on fundamentalism it will have achieved its aim.
David Harrington Watt's Antifundamentalism in Modern America gives us a pathbreaking account of the role that the fear of fundamentalism has played—and continues to play—in American culture. Fundamentalism has never been a neutral category of analysis, and Watt scrutinizes the various political purposes that the concept has been made to serve. In 1920, the conservative Baptist writer Curtis Lee Laws coined the word "fundamentalists." Watt examines the antifundamentalist polemics of Harry Emerson Fosdick, Talcott Parsons, Stanley Kramer, and Richard Hofstadter, which convinced many Americans that religious fundamentalists were almost by definition backward, intolerant, and anti-intellectual and that fundamentalism was a dangerous form of religion that had no legitimate place in the modern world. For almost fifty years, the concept of fundamentalism was linked almost exclusively to Protestant Christians. The overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the establishment of an Islamic republic led to a more elastic understanding of the nature of fundamentalism. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Americans became accustomed to using fundamentalism as a way of talking about Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists, as well as Christians. Many Americans came to see Protestant fundamentalism as an expression of a larger phenomenon that was wreaking havoc all over the world. Antifundamentalism in Modern America is the first book to provide an overview of the way that the fear of fundamentalism has shaped U.S. culture, and it will lead readers to rethink their understanding of what fundamentalism is and what it does.
Through a collection of essays, Fundamentalism: Perspectives on a Contested History explores the ways in which the concept of global fundamentalism does and does not illuminate developments in modern Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. At issue is whether, beyond the specific milieu of American Protestantism in the early decades of the twentieth century, the word ‘fundamentalism’ captures something important on a global scale that is not captured—or not as well—by other words. Readers will quickly discover that in exploring this issue the book is “at war with itself.” In Fundamentalism Simon A. Wood and David Harrington Watt have deliberately assembled a range of voices that is reflective of the broad spectrum of views scholars have offered on the topic, from those who find the concept not merely helpful but also important, those who have concerns about it but do not reject it, those who find that it has been misapplied in critical instances, and those who simply find it unhelpful and lacking in any meaningful specificity or content. While there are more than two perspectives presented, Wood and Watt identify two very broad groups of scholars from each end of the spectrum: those who find the concept illuminating and those who do not. The book does not privilege or advocate either of these positions, nor does it attempt to resolve the numerous problems that scholars on both sides of the debate have identified with the concept of global fundamentalism. Rather, it presents some of the key arguments on both sides of the contemporary debate. If it thereby provides readers with a sense of the current state of the discourse on fundamentalism it will have achieved its aim.
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