Willis Plenary: Balmer/Worthen/Fea

April 9, 2021

"White Evangelical Alignment with the Political Forces of our Time: New Ways of Understanding"

The CSC has previously explored the relationship of the religious right with the political right especially critiquing those developments in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. But few subjects have provoked more public debate in the past decade than the white evangelical support for a particular candidate in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. This plenary session will feature three of the leading scholars in the field of American religious history, each of whom has done significant work on this relationship: Randall Balmer, Molly Worthen and John Fea. After offering their own individual perspectives on the question that defines this session, all three will engage in dialogue among themselves, seeking to open up new ways of understanding this alliance.

In a separate non plenary session another group of scholars will “extend the conversation,” begun by Balmer, Worthen, and Fea, in what we hope will launch an ongoing scholarly exploration with peer reviewed and generative sessions. This panel, convened by Richard T. Hughes, Lipscomb University, will be comprised of CSC alum and frequent participants, Amy Artman, Missouri State University, author Stephen Mansfield, Edward J. Robinson, Texas College and John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University.

The three scholars featured in the plenary panel bring essential credentials for this conversation. Randall Balmer, an historian of American religion, taught at Barnard College and Columbia University for twenty-seven years before moving to Dartmouth College in 2012, where he is the John Phillips Professor in Religion. Balmer is an Episcopal priest and author of more than a dozen books, including Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America, now in its fifth edition, and Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.

Molly Worthen is Professor at UNC Chapel Hill and her research focuses on North American religious and intellectual history, particularly the ideas and culture of conservative Christianity. Her book Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (Oxford, 2013) examines American evangelical intellectual life since 1945. She teaches courses in global Christianity, North American religious and intellectual culture, and the history of politics and ideology. In 2017 she received the Manekin Family Award for Teaching Excellence in Honors Carolina. She is also a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and has written about religion and politics for the American Prospect, Foreign Policy, and other publications.

John Fea is professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. His previous books include Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction, and he blogs regularly at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.