Matthew Avery Sutton is one of those scholars of American religion who I had in mind when I asked readers to consider the most recent “religious” turn in academia. Sutton is an associate professor of history at Washington State University, the author of the highly acclaimed biography of Aimee Semple McPherson, an alum of the IUPUI’s Young Scholars in Religion program, and the winner of the 2012 article of the year in the Journal of American History. I want to recommend that essay to this blog by contending with what I think is one of the substantial contributions Sutton makes through it.
The title of the essay is nicely provocative: “Was FDR the Antichrist? The Birth of Fundamentalist Antiliberalism in a Global Age.” The argument, as Sutton makes clear in a vigorously argued introduction, is that Christian fundamentalist eschatology developed a very particular ideological line in direct response to the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Fundamentalist “criticisms of the New Deal,” Sutton asserts, “married traditional American fears of a leviathan state to a particular, depression-era apocalyptic Christian theology. It was this union that came to define fundamentalists’ suspicion of the federal government and their distinctive twentieth-century political ideology.” (1061) In short, the birth of the contemporary religious right emerged with the birth of contemporary liberalism. Continue reading