about the experiential aspects of their faith- especially their personal relation- ship with Jesus. Smith says the m.ovement's emphasis on relationships and spirituality help explain its success as a distinctive subculture. Those ties, as well as the conviction that the rest of the world is against them, create a powerful bond. "Their strong subcultural identity is rooted in a religious commitment that members share across denominational ines," Smith explained. "It's as much a shared sensibility and spirituality as it is a set of theological beliefs. It's about an intense religious experience, participation in small fellowship groups, and mem.ber- ship in a tightly knit church." Smith doesn't expect readers just to take his word. American Evangelicalism is sprinkled with interviewees' voices- Midwestern Methodists, Southern Pente- costals, West Coast born-agains and even some rnid-Atlantic doubters. Smith hopes the book faithfully represents real people's lives and concerns. Smith recalled a conversation with a Philadelphia-based insurance salesman. The two met at a suburban McDonald's, and the man, a devout Baptist, described his efforts to influence friends and colleagues. "We have an obligation to present the Christian way oflife," he told Smith. "But am I going to the point of creating the next inquisition to do that? No. But I try to set an example to my neighbors, to persuade society to act in a way that I feel is a Christian way oflife." By focusing on men and women who feel likewise, Smith hopes to correct the common misconception that all evangeli- cals support the Religious Right. "The evangelical movement and the Christian Right overlap somewhat," he said. "But many evangelicals do not sup- port or even care about the Christian Right. It's misleading to think they are the same thing." What evangelicals do care about, he said, is engaging with the world and making it a better place. Yet, their strategy for change is to go person by person rather than taking over the political system or legislating morality.
That's why they have not been-nor
are they likely to be - successful at
imposing their vision on the rest of the
As one interviewee explained: "There
are a lot of well-intending Christians that
are involved in politics and bringing about
social change, but yet it's like Billy Graham
said: There's only one way you're going
to change the countlY and change people,
and that is through bringing them to a
personal knowledge of Christ."
Smith's colleagues have greeted his
book enthusiastically. Sociologist Roger
Finke of Purdue University calls it "the
most complete and accurate account of
evangelicalism. ever written." Robert
Wuthnow of Princeton University says it
casts evangelicals "in a new light."
"They garner commitment by empha-
sizing the political tensions between them-
selves and the rest of the culture," Wuthnow
explained. "Their persecution complex
persuades them they are God's chosen."
Smith- whose previous work explored
liberation theology in Latin American and
the U.S.-Central American peace move-
ment during the Reagan era- believes
that his findings show religion is a vital
aspect of modern life - despite secularists
who predicted it would wither away.
In fact, evangelicalism thrives because
of pluralism and diversity. Its community
identity is based on a sense of distinctive-
ness-and tension with the larger culture.
Other religious groups may find the
same formula equally advantageous.
"Modern pluralist culture needs to
come to terms with the role ofreligion
in society and public life," Smith said.
"Religion is cyclical. It's resurgent now,
and we need to figure out how it can be
taken seriously in public life without
allowing anyone religion or non-religious
perspective dominating the others. Maybe
that's utopian, but it is the challenge for
DIANE WINSTON is afellow a the Center for
Media} Culture and History at New York
University. She is au thor of the forthcom ing
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