george marsden at fuller

We went to see George Marsden speak tonight on “Fundamentalism and Contemporary Culture” at Fuller Wednesday night. George Marsden, teaches church history at Notre Dame and has made a name for himself by writing book on fundamentalism and its affects on the church in America.

One of the main points of the talk was that early fundamentalist groups were not politically active, in fact was much more of a sectarian group. That relied very heavily on the spiritualization of the Gospel and its ethical mandates. Marsden’s point was that between the 1920’s and 1970’s the was not headed toward the politically conservative spotlight. In fact a very interesting point made by Marsden and buttressed by a conversation with history professor James Whisenant, is that fundamentalism is primarily a southern movement. The odd part about this is that up until the early 1970’s the south was primarily democratic. It was Lincoln and the Republican north that fought so hard for the abolition.

Another point that may follow this one, was brought up by professor Sherwood Lingenfelter, when he pointed out that it also tends to be a class issue. Generalizations never fit everyone, but stereotypically those who fit into militant fundamentalism are white and middle to upper class.

William Pannell, homiletics professor at Fuller brought up what I thought was the most intriguing point of the evening when he said, “Wouldn’t you say that much of what fundamentalists have done is in counter-response to the African American church?” Marsden, agreed to this as a possibility but its one he hasn’t yet teased out all the way. So Marsden coined the phrase “Great Reversal” in his book Fundamentalism and the American Culture, when he talks about the great changes that took place in the church during and directly after the Civil War. I might want to add that there was a “Great Reversal” in the 20th Century too, that took place after the Civil Rights Movement. Political parities swapped – the south became primarily conservative and Republican (including all those places where Southerns have moved too in the north) and the more “Urban” centers of the world have become democratic.

What stands to be discovered is whether the Civil Rights movement alone generated enough crisis to cause the Fundamentalist groups to come out of their shells and rally behind the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat ‘I speak for God’ Roberston, founding the Moral Majority as a largely influential voiting block? If not what are the other factors that may explain such a great reversal both politically and theologically in the US?

Pictures supplied by JR Rozko.

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2 responses to “george marsden at fuller”

  1. Love the new site! I want one.

    The Marsden lecture summary is great too. I was at the lecture as well and was particularly struck by Lingenfelter’s comments. I’m not quite sure I understood his point completely though. As I heard it, he was saying that the current involvement of fundamentalists in politics may have a lot to do with their steady rise in class. I’m not sure if that was the point he was making, but it is one that I will make here. I know a lot of people that might easily be labeled “fundamentalists” (as we are using the term these days) who don’t know sh** from shinola about politics. This ignorance about and non-involvement in politics, I would suggest, has a lot to do with their place in the class system. As fundamentalists’ lots in life get better their involvement in politics increase. It is no secret that the South in general has seen more rapid economic growth since the latter part of the 20th century than many other parts of the country. I think there may be a correlation to this rise and the emergence of a politically involved fundamentalist base coming out of the south. But, for that reason, it may be better to generalize with one small addition: “…those who fit into militant fundamentalism AND INVOLVE THEMSELVES IN POLITICS are white and middle to upper class.” As well, we ought also to be clear to say that not all white and middle to upper class Southerners are fundamentalists. At least I hope not. I’m white, from the South, and I think I just barely fall into the middle class status.