How evangelicalism is transforming—and being transformed by—American culture
In this provocative look at evangelicalism in the United States, Mark A. Shibley tests the widely ascribed "southernization of American religion" thesis, or the idea that the recent resurgence of born-again Christianity represents the spread of southern-style religion from the historically conservative, Protestant South to America's mainstream. While confirming a link between evangelicalism's initial growth and the diffusion of southern-style religion, Shibley uncovers a reciprocity in the relationship between evangelicalism and secularism. He demonstrates that even as evangelicalism changes the face of American culture, it is transformed by its encounter with secularism.
The price of success for born-again Christianity, according to Shibley, is cultural accommodation. He argues that evangelicalism forfeits some of its "southernness"—including its moral strictness—in order to thrive outside the South, and he contends that congregations that embrace secular elements of the surrounding culture grow more rapidly than those that hold tightly to traditional evangelical beliefs.
Shibley predicts that evangelicalism outside the South will increasingly shape itself to meet individual rather than collective needs and that the restructuring of American religion and culture will follow a public-to-private, rather than liberal-to-conservative, continuum. Disagreeing with some recent obituaries of the New Christian Right, he suggests that evangelicalism will continue to have a significant effect on American culture in the foreseeable future, but not in the domineering way once feared by the liberal cultural establishment.
Mark A. Shibley is assistant professor of sociology at Loyola University Chicago. His articles on resurgent evangelicalism in the contemporary United States have appeared in Sociology of Religion and Pacific Northwest Quarterly
"The great strength of this book is the way it pulls together both its own work and that of others to produce a new, comprehensive and convincing image of the contours and dynamics of American evangelism in the past twenty-five years."—Robert Ellwood, University of Southern California