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Religion and American Politics

03/29/2005 5:30 PM 6-120
Dr. Alan Wolfe, SM '56, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Boston College

Description: Alan Wolfe vigorously denies that a theocracy is rising in the United States. In his richly detailed tour of the nation's current Christian revival, he focuses on two very different movements. "Fundamentalists turn their back on culture; they can grow up and never meet anyone who doesn't share their faith," says Wolfe. But evangelical Christians "feel an obligation to engage, and as annoying as that engagement can be, it means that evangelicals have to be seduced by modernity." This is good news for liberal values, believes Wolfe, because the evangelical movement, which participates more in contemporary culture, is far more dominant. He describes the explosive growth of mega-churches in American exurbs, where thousands of congregants flock to hear Christian rock music and messages about loving Jesus and each other. While they're "put off by overt religiosity," they still talk about sin. Yet strict prohibitions against such activities as dancing are starting to fade. The bestselling books at Christian book stores (after Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life) tend to be diet books such as Slim for Him. Wolfe believes Americans are shaped by culture and religion, and when the two clash, "culture almost always wins." He dismisses the notion that the Christian right or even moral values won the 2004 election for George Bush, and disputes the idea that "we're turning against modernity in the direction of a fundamentalist religious revival." He believes that a small clique of Christian lobbyists have influenced the current administration around such issues as stem cell research, and that Congress is shamelessly pandering to these groups, rather than speaking for American Christians, who, says Wolfe "are as American as they are Christian."

About the Speaker(s): Wolfe's most recent books include Return to Greatness: How America Lost Its Sense of Purpose and What it Needs to Do to Recover It (2005), The Transformation of American Religion: How We actually Practice our Faith (2003), and n Intellectual in Public (2003). He is the author or editor of more than 10 other books. A contributing editor of The New Republic and The Wilson Quarterly, Wolfe writes often for those publications as well as for Commonweal,, The New York Times, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, and other magazines and newspapers. He served as an advisor to President Clinton in preparation for his 1995 State of the Union address and has lectured widely at American and European universities. Wolfe has been the recipient of grants from the Russell Sage Foundation, the Templeton Foundation, and the Lilly Endowment.

Host(s): School of Architecture and Planning, Special Program in Urban and Regional Studies

Tape #: 19788

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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