(F. Things) Dale Coulter–Evangelicals, Pop Culture and Mass Culture

Central to the Anglo-Catholic School was the dynamic between folk culture and Christianity in the formation of the person. This was at the heart of Christendom, not some monolithic church-state entity that oppressed people. I see this perspective as also being a central feature of Evangelicalism, especially in its revivalist wing. It also strikes me that Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture misses these connections in part because Niebuhr is caught up in an American narrative of the fracturing of mainline Protestantism. Sociologists such as Peter Berger have repeatedly emphasized how the global Pentecostal and charismatic movements have become adept at navigating the forms of modernity without succumbing to disenchantment. This is because by emphasizing the Spirit’s role in creation and redemption evangelical revivalism and its offshoot of the Pentecostal and charismatic movement have advanced a program that both democratizes Christianity and inculturates it in a way that preserves and fosters folk culture. Festivals, musical forms, and other features of folk culture are not denounced as antiquated features of authoritarianism that seek to destroy autonomy, which seems to be what the Frankfurt School thought about folk culture.

One of the important contributions of Christopher Lasch is his criticism of the Frankfurt School’s solutions to modern life. These solutions have been taken up into certain theoretical accounts in which the ideas of gender and family promoted by folk culture become part of the problem and therefore need to be destroyed. Since religion was a powerful rationale supporting folk culture it has become part of the problem for the Frankfurt School and its modern disciples. Lasch’s criticisms reveal the deep suspicion of “the common man” behind the Frankfurt School’s analyses and the impact this had on historians like Richard Hofstadter. The rise of McCarthyism, according to Lasch, confirmed in the minds of many liberal critics like Hofstadter that mass movements mask ingrained hatred of the other and therefore control must be taken from the people and the folk cultures they foster.

One of the problems I have with Mark Noll’s analysis of the Evangelical Mind is an uncritical embrace of Richard Hofstadter’s ideas about populist movements.

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