Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Anthea Butler

Abstract

Over the course of the twentieth century, Pentecostalism grew at a staggering rate in the United States and profoundly reshaped the American religious landscape. Yet, it remains sorely understudied by historians, particularly in its broader relationship to and impact on evangelicalism and the Religious Right. This dissertation traces Pentecostal movement building in the United States from the depths of the Great Depression to the end of the Reagan era. It shifts focus away from the East and West coasts and towards Oklahoma, which served as a key space for the development of the Prosperity Gospel in the postwar period. Through the spread of the Prosperity Gospel, the rise of powerful Pentecostal television networks, and in their relationship to political actors and state institutions, Pentecostals shaped how evangelicals came to understand questions of inequality and the role of government in their lives. Between the 1940s and the 1960s, Pentecostal laypersons and evangelists wrestled control away from denominational leaders in their churches and embraced health and wealth as the divine right of the spirit-filled believer. These upheavals had a profound impact on the social structure of Pentecostalism. From the 1960s onwards, white Pentecostals actively broke with segregationist politics and started to integrate African Americans into their revivals and education institutions and onto their television programs and speaking circuits. Yet, Pentecostal evangelists understood inequality as a spiritual battle rather than an outcome of social and material power and centered faith alone as the only solution to racism and poverty. In the final third of the twentieth century, Pentecostal media empires became key promulgators of anti-welfare narratives that opposed government attempts to challenge discrimination and inequality. At the very moment when questions of inequality and its causes became most contested, the Prosperity Gospel provided an alternative explanation for the persistence of racial and economic inequality. This not only shaped evangelical attitudes to capitalism and created coalitions between Pentecostals and conservative political actors but produced a cultural infrastructure for neoliberalism.

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Available to all on Saturday, July 05, 2025

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