Academic journal article Western Folklore

Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America/Working-Class Heroes: Protecting Home, Community, and Nation in a Chicago Neighborhood

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America/Working-Class Heroes: Protecting Home, Community, and Nation in a Chicago Neighborhood

Article excerpt

Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America. By Amy Johnson Frykholm. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. x + 224, acknowledgments, introduction, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95 cloth); Working-Class Heroes: Protecting Home, Community, and Nation in a Chicago Neighborhood. By Maria Kefalas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Pp. xiv + 203, acknowledgments, introduction, photographs, maps, tables, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $19.95 paper)

The authors of America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters (2000) point out an obvious, if willfully ignored, fact of contemporary American politics-that white working-class people are the largest and most influential group in the electorate. Comprising approximately 55 percent of voters, they and their shifting political allegiances have been responsible for the Republican victories of the past thirty years, engendering a small publishing industry of cognitive-dissonance analysis-Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas? (2004) is the best in this subgenre-under which the enigma is that not only has the white working class benefited neither economically nor culturally from voting for Republicans, but their condition has worsened. Frank speculates that the Republican success has been due to a kind of sophisticated brainwashing, but the answer is far more complicated than that, as Amy Johnson Frykholm's Rapture Culture and Maria Kefalas' Working-Class Heroes help us understand, even though neither book is written with political analysis in mind. Both present profiles of largely white, largely working-class communities. Together they suggest that an understanding of this demographic is more elusive than it might seem, and they reveal how cultural questions can become political. The people in Frykholm's study embrace "The Rapture," a Biblically predicted event that will reward them spiritually and materially as solace for their lack of fulfillment in mortal life. Those in Kefalas's study of a working-class neighborhood in Chicago defend their idealized notion of community even as the jobs that once supported it disappear.

In Rapture Culture, the author draws upon literary criticism, religious studies and ethnographic research to explain Left Behind (a best-selling apocalyptic fiction series by theologist Timothy LaHaye and novelist Jerry Jenkins), whose runaway success in the publishing market has attracted the baffled attention of elite audiences. Having grown up in an evangelical church and turned away from it as an adult, Frykholm enters her research with an acknowledged set of biases that frame the project, which began as a Duke University dissertation. Frykholm does not hide her dislike of the books, but she does discover their richness through conversations with readers. Her biases make the study valuable to people puzzled by the success of the Left Behind series, but at critical points she flubs her questions, talking to her consultants as if they too were literary scholars, distancing herself from them. Her willingness to admit these shortcomings as an ethnographer humanizes her, but it does not make for a confident book. (However, her interest in finding atypical readers of the book, including agnostics and one African American woman, enriches her account.)

Frykholm finds more success when she applies theoretical perspectives to the Left Behind books and to her fieldwork. A brief, useful account of dispensationalist premillennialism, which informs the Left Behind series, situates the books historically and suggests that rapture pulp, far from a supposed "phenomenon," is instead the expression of a longstanding undercurrent in American religious experience. She also finds unusual allies in the clergy of the churches her consultants attend, many of whom find the books as trite and theologically hollow as she does. …

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