Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gasaway Interviews Swartz on the History of the Evangelical Left

When I think of the historiography of the evangelical left in American religion and politics, I think of David Swartz and Brantley Gasaway.  Swartz teaches history at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky and he is the author of Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.  Gasaway teaches religion at Bucknell University and is the author of a forthcoming study of the evangelical left with University of North Carolina Press.

Over at Religion in American History, Gasaway interviews Swartz on his new book.  In part one of the interview, their conversation ranges from evangelical historiography to how Swartz chose his topic for research.  Here is a taste:

Brantley Gasaway (BG): Many people are interested in how authors come to study their subjectstell us what led you to write about the evangelical left. 

David Swartz (DS): 
Like any enterprising graduate student slogging through comprehensive exam lists, I was on the lookout for a gap in the scholarship of American religious history—and archival materials to exploit that gap. When I read a piece by progressive evangelical activist Ron Sider online suggesting that some “enterprising graduate student” take a look at the Evangelicals for Social Action archives, I knew immediately that I had a project. 

On a more personal level, this project was an attempt to figure out my own parents (history is ultimately autobiography, right?). They had grown up in the 1970s. They ran a pretty egalitarian marriage.
They sang “They Will Know We Are Christians by our Love” during worship services and would have been dismayed by an American flag in the church sanctuary. I ate food my mother (and father!) cooked out of More-with-Less, a cookbook with lots of vegetarian recipes. And I knew many like them, church-goers who were not comfortable with the idea of American as a Christian nation, a budget that prioritized the military over poverty, a punitive criminal justice system, and the like. And yet they shared their faith and lived out the kind of warm piety so common among evangelicals. This was an idiosyncratic combination that I never read about in news reports and scholarly books. I was curious about how typical they were—and why they seemed so marginalized in the public eye.