Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism

By George M. Marsden | Go to book overview

4. Preachers of Paradox: Fundamentalist
Politics in Historical Perspective

IF HISTORY HAS LAWS, the first is that it is usually unpredictable. Who in the 1950s anticipated the upheavals of the 1960s? Or who in 1970 clearly projected the conservative religious resurgences of the next decade? So when we look at the religious New Right in America today we cannot say whether it marks the dawn of a new spiritual era, a phase in recurrent cycles of social and spiritual anxiety, or the last gasp of an old order. All we can agree on, perhaps, is that theories of secularization that predicted correlations of scientific-technological advance and spiritual decline are in deep trouble.

Such theories themselves combined a violation of history's first law with the biases of secularist scholars. In America such prejudice has been directed particularly against revivalist evangelicalism. During most of this century scholars had difficulty taking this tradition seriously and integrating it into their understandings of the American past. Theory and wish converged to suggest that traditionalist Protestantism would wither in the bright sun of modern culture. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, secularist intellectuals were locked in a bitter struggle to free themselves from

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