Selling the Old-time Religion: American Fundamentalists and Mass Culture, 1920-1940

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A cultural history of fundamentalism's formative decades; Protestant fundamentalists have always allied themselves with conservative politics and stood against liberal theology and evolution From the start, however, their relationship with mass culture has been complex and ambivalent Selling the Old-Time Religion tells how the first generation of fundamentalists embraced the modern business and entertainment techniques of marketing advertising, drama, film, radio, and publishing to spread the gospel Selectively, and with more sophistlcation than has been accorded to them, fundamentalists adapted to the consumer society and popular culture with the accompanying values of materialism and immediate gratification. Selling the Old-Time Religion is written by a fundamentalist who is based at the country's foremost fundamentalist institution of higher education. It is a candid and remarkable piece of self-scrutiny that reveals the movement's first encounters with some of the media methods it now wields with well-documented virtuosity. Douglas Carl Abrams draws extensively on sermons, popular journals, and educational archives to reveal the attitudes and actions of the fundamental leadership and the laity. Abrams discusses how fundamentalists' outlook toward contemporary trends and events shifted from aloofiness to engagement as they moved inward from the margins of American culture and began to weigh in on the day's issues - from jazz to ""flappers"" - in large numbers. Fundamentalists in the 1920s and 1930s ""were willing to compromise certain traditions that defined the movement, such as premillennialism, holiness, and defense of the faith,"" Abrams concludes, ""but their flexibility with forms of consumption and pleasure strengthened their evangelistic emphasis, perhaps the movement's core."" Contrary to the myth of fundamentalism's demise after the Scopes Trial, the movement's uses of mass culture help explain their success in the decades following it. In the end fundamentalists imitated mass culture not to be like the world but to evangelize it.

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University of Georgia Press
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