W(h)ither the Christian Right?

Edited by Christopher Douglas and Matthew Mullins


Christopher Douglas and Matthew Mullins

When the Church Library is Bad for You: The Rigidity of Evangelical Women’s Fiction

Rachel B. Griffis

“We Must Choose Manhood”: Masculinity, Sex, and Authority in Evangelical Purity Manuals

Melodie Roschman

Toni Morrison on Black Christian Conservatism

Bryan M. Santin

Confessions of a ’90s Christian Culture Warrior

Erick Sierra

Organized Discontent

L. Benjamin Rolsky

Red-Pilling on Patmos: A Quick and Dirty Hermeneutic for the Evangelical–QAnon Connection

Jenny Van Houdt

Apocalypse, Now What? Evangelical Decline and the Turn to Conservative Conspiritualism

Ken Paradis

The Varieties of Apocalypse: The Christian Right and Affective Response

Caleb D. Spencer

Beyond the CBA: Constructions of Readers in Christian Right Magazines

Andrew Connolly

Christian Rap and White New Calvinist Poetics

Brittney Rakowski

The Things You Can’t Teach in Evangelical Literature Classes

Scott Okamoto

The Praise Band to English Professor Pipeline

Ray Horton

Pod45 Episode 7: W(h)ither the Christian Right?

Post45 Contemporaries Editorial Team


For some time, secular prophets have predicted the demise of the Christian Right, a politically muscular movement of mostly white conservative evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons.1 Demographics suggest waning affiliation, as white evangelicals declined from 23% of the population of the United States in 2006 to 14.5% in 2020, with a similar drop (16% to 11.7%) for white Catholics.2 And yet the movement that propelled Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump to the presidency has just proven triumphant in one of its decades-long political battles: overturning Roe v. Wade. Despite demographic decline, conservative white Christians have established structural advantages in the Senate, Electoral College, and judiciary, where a reactionary Supreme Court has confirmed that it is prepared to roll back rights not deemed "deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition." The arc of the Christian Right began with conservative white evangelicals joining conservative white Catholics in a new mobilization around abortion in the 1970s with older anti-Communist and anti-civil rights strains very much still present and today its increasing authoritarianism and hostility to pluralist democracy are evidenced in the failed Christian Nationalist insurrection of January 6, 2021 and in ongoing efforts to steal power in 2024 through gerrymandering, alternate elector slates, and voter suppression. Even if its numbers continue to wane, the Christian Right and its outsized influence will remain integral to the religio-political landscape of the United States for the foreseeable future. 

In recent decades, historians, social scientists, philosophers, and scholars from other fields have produced nuanced pictures of this world-changing movement and its attendant structures of feeling. Yet only more recently has literary study of the Christian Right emerged as a small but vibrant field of inquiry.3 After all, the Christian Right is not a merely political movement. It has both generated and been engendered by diverse subcultures complete with their own discourses, aesthetics, marketplaces, institutions, scholarship, and yes, their own literatures. What can a distinctly literary approach to the imagination of the Christian Right tell us about its past, present, and future? What does literature suggest about this movement both popular fiction by Christian Right authors (for example and most famously, the Left Behind series), and literary fiction about the Christian Right (for example and most famously, The Handmaid's Tale)? What does literary studies have to say about the movement's shapes and forms, its genres and discourses, its histories and horizons? There is no more urgent time than now to ask these questions. 

When we talk about the literature of the Christian Right, we're talking about novels, films, memoirs, poems, plays and even manuals and pamphlets written from within and about certain Christian subcultures in the U.S. emergent since the early 1970s, when Roe v. Wade was decided. The establishment of that precedent and its recent overturning bookend a half century of unceasing culture war that has created a peculiar religio-political alliance of conservative white Christians which proclaims allegiance to small government, patriarchal family values, and the free market. Much has been written about the historical and political conditions that facilitated these now-commonplace coalitions. But in this cluster of short essays, we want to expand our understanding of the kinds of imaginative landscapes and aesthetic visions that harmonize dissonant traditions and perspectives. How are so many evangelical Christians drawn to a conspiracy like QAnon? Why would a people deeply committed to a strict moral code support a lascivious presidential candidate so fervently? What are the religious valences of the Christian Right ethics of power, fear, group loyalty, authoritarian commitment, hierarchy, order, purity, and anger? What relationship, if any, exists between conservative social values and sexual abuse? Where our colleagues in other disciplines have turned to historical events, influential leaders, political campaigns, or legislation for answers, such questions prompt us to ask: what and how do those among the Christian Right read? With what hermeneutics? With what insights and what blind spots? As is the case with most literary scholars whom we have found interested in the Christian Right, our lines of inquiry have been motivated, at least in part, by our own experiences at the odd crossroads between the worlds of North American evangelicalism and literary studies.

Matthew Mullins: One possible explanation for why there hasn't been more exploration of U.S. evangelicalism among literary scholars is that the realm of Christian cultural production has self-segregated based on nebulous notions of "Christian" and "secular" in the last half century. Born in 1983, I came of age as an evangelical Christian in the 1990s, when a host of churches, parachurch organizations, and businesses in the U.S. were reaping the fruits of laborious decades spent sowing a Christian subculture. One could shop at Christian bookstores, listen to Christian music, read Christian self-help manuals, subscribe to Christian magazines, attend Christian schools and universities, watch Christian television networks and movies, study Christian scholarship, and read Christian fiction. Perhaps it should be no surprise, then, that when I decided to pursue graduate study in literature I operated under the mostly unconscious and entirely wrong assumption that the worlds of Leslie Marmon Silko and Ishmael Reed and Don DeLillo were entirely separate from those of Left Behind and DC Talk and Billy Graham. I do not mean to argue that Christians should not commit themselves to producing culture. However, I do think this self-sustaining subculture can condition literature scholars, both Christian and non-Christian, to think of books written, published, and marketed by and for Christians as belonging to a parallel universe that need not ever intersect with the one where writers like Silko, Reed, and DeLillo are profiled in The New Yorker or Paris Review. There is a rich tradition of scholarship investigating religion and literature, but relatively little of that work has focused on literature since World War II and even less has been devoted to the Christian Right as we're conceiving of it here. In fact, it wasn't until I read your work, Chris, in If God Meant to Interfere: American Literature and the Rise of the Christian Right that I witnessed a literature scholar using terms like "conservative resurgence" that were deeply meaningful to my upbringing but mostly illegible to my professional colleagues. Though it primarily examines literary fiction by writers such as Barbara Kingsolver, Marilynne Robinson, and Cormac McCarthy, that book, combined with your special issue of Christianity & Literature, has functioned as something like a permission for me to begin to ask how the worlds of the Christian Right and literary studies might illuminate one another.

Christopher Douglas: I think there are all kinds of unmapped intersections and unguessed kinships between contemporary American literary fiction and the evangelical fiction our discipline has mostly overlooked. What would it mean for Post45 readers and scholars to begin to think about the literary period such as it is as including popular religious fiction written by Christian fundamentalists? I have been struck, for instance, by the ways conservative Christian discourse seemed strangely to echo aspects of literary multiculturalism and postmodernism: how threatened identities find strength in ancestral faiths, for instance, or the attractions of epistemological undecidability. In my book I called these entanglements "Christian Multiculturalism" and "Christian Postmodernism." But I believe that the rise of the Christian Right has had a field-warping effect on literature itself: insofar as heightened religiosity has become identified with retrograde, reactionary politics, religiously-inclined literary writers (like David Foster Wallace, Alice Walker, John Irving, or Douglas Coupland) disaffiliated from organized religion. And how can we think about one of the most remarkable subgenres of the present post-apocalyptic fiction without recognizing the long durée of apocalypse itself, a genre that continues to organize Christian Right fiction and its politics? I'm an apostate evangelical who was raised "None" but became a born-again Christian when I was sixteen, asking Jesus into my heart to save me from my life of sin. Mine was sort of a liberal Canadian version of the American scene you describe, Matt; we tended or at least I did to accept evolution, were agnostic about abortion and homosexuality, and didn't see the connection between faith and politics. And then midway upon the journey of life I looked up and found myself in a dark forest, for my straightforward path had been lost, except that midway was around twenty-three, shortly after my English literature degree. But I stayed interested in religion in America as I researched and taught postmodern and multicultural contemporary American fiction in the decades dominated by what you've nicely termed the "Culture War on Terror" characterizing the Bush II and Obama years, watching how it shaped American politics and culture and its literature. And now I sometimes wonder if my training in the literary the complexities of interpretation, a willingness to live with ambiguity in texts and life, how stories train us in empathy or hostility for people unlike us had something to do with my loss of faith. Or can there be a way in which training in reading practices makes faith flexible, more capacious, aware of complexity and nuance?

MM: My answer to your last question would be "yes." One significant difference between our experiences with evangelicalism and academia, then, is that I view my training in literary studies as integral to my ongoing faith journey as a Christian. However, the "Christian" and "secular" boundaries I've described above led me to compartmentalize my academic and spiritual worlds for a long time. In hindsight, I consider the separation of those worlds to be attributable, in part, to what we're calling the Christian Right. The ways of reading I learned during my years as a student in English departments finally led me to question many of the political and cultural touchstones of my evangelical upbringing. These questions sparked an existential crisis for a time, as any shakiness in one's political views automatically translates into a trembling of faith because those spheres overlap so completely for many on the Christian Right. No wonder it seemed safer to keep my academic and spiritual worlds separate! Even to ask questions about issues central to the Republican platform, such as abortion, was to signal an inauthenticity in one's confession of faith. And yet, the more I read the Hebrew and Christian scriptures in light of the intellectual and literary histories I was studying, the more questions I had about the relation between politics and faith. I think my disciplinary attunement to "the text" and to the hermeneutical insights of literary theory have facilitated my deepening love for the Christian tradition and my sense of the Christian Right as an integral, yet antithetical, movement within that tradition. This insight, among others, was prompted by the harmony between the nuanced theories of reading I have studied and practiced as a scholar of literature and the insistence on "the text" integral to my evangelical upbringing. They have helped me to read the scriptures as products of their times/places and to bridge the gap between them and myself/my culture in ways different from and, in my mind, more faithful than the nearly exclusively prescriptive form of literalism that dominates much of the Christian Right world (when it's convenient). Once I began thinking about the connections between these things, my training naturally motivated me to investigate the kind of world in which the Christian Right could become possible and the imaginative forms in which it has expressed itself and its vision of the good life.

CD: Religiously inflected literature published since the second world war is haunted by the secular. Christian Right fiction is premised in a sense on what Charles Taylor's A Secular Age calls the post-war "super-nova" of potential belief and unbelief positions, where Christian faith is not the "default" Western option it had been in previous centuries.4 Secularization's haunting is no less true of our critical approaches to this literature. John McClure's Partial Faiths and Amy Hungerford's Postmodern Belief have been cornerstones for understanding the intersection of literature and religion in the post-1945 period.5 McClure suggested that religiously interested "postsecular" fiction was drawn to non-institutional, non-doctrinal forms of "weak religion." Complementing this argument, Hungerford argued that the intersection was marked by a "belief in belief," in style and language without "strong, doctrinally specific religious belief."6 Both explicitly and self-consciously bracketed out of consideration the most popular religious fiction of the present the literature of the Christian Right. Thus, even in her brief detour from the mainline Protestant past of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead into the Christian Right future of the Left Behind novels, Hungerford maintains that the Bible becomes a totem of authority marked by a "minimalism of the theological content of belief."7 While this is a dubious conclusion about the sixteen-part series that maps specific eschatological "prophecies" from Daniel and Revelation onto End Times events at the turn of the millennium, it suggests one answer as to why our discipline turned aside from Christian Right fiction. We were ill-prepared by our dominant interpretive approaches and by secularization's assertion that religion wanes as societies become more modern. The resultant critical paradigm of the postsecular, which informed what we told ourselves about the intersection of literature and religion in the present, cannot really account for the return of the doctrinally active, politically muscular "strong religion" that characterizes conservative white Christian communities.

MM: McClure and Hungerford started the conversation about the explanatory weakness of that secularization story, but then you came along with If God Meant to Interfere and demonstrated that there was this whole other side of that story, one of "politically-muscular" or "strong" religions like the Christian Right.8 Now that we're turning our scholarly attention to the Christian Right we're building on additional insights about secularization and the secular drawn from philosophers like Charles Taylor and anthropologists such as Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood. Many scholars of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century U.S. literature (e.g. Tracy Fessenden, John Lardas Modern, Peter Coviello) have already begun to demonstrate that to call our society secular is less to fixate on religious decline than to reflect on how secular values curb, inform, delimit religious practice in ways that ultimately shape religion itself. Among these secular values are free enterprise, a very specific conception of religious liberty, and individualism. What many of the contributions to this cluster do is help us see how the Christian Right itself is a product of a secular age.

CD: The questions this cluster asks are: what kind of tools can literary studies bring to the table in terms of understanding the Christian Right's moral imagination as it is expressed in its literature and in related homiletical, hermeneutical, and pedagogical discourses? How might our disciplinary approaches to language, genre, figuration, and tradition help us think about the Christian Right? How does training in strategies of reading and a sense of the literary (complexity, richness, ambiguity, uncertainty, metaphor, and so on) complicate fundamentalist culture and its reading practices of inerrancy and literalism? How is English as a discipline, or literature and religion studies specifically, complicit in the rise and political dominance of the Christian Right? Could the Christian Right fiction we didn't want to read or teach or research the books that historians and social scientists were reading and teaching and researching have given us an early warning about and increased understanding of the evangelical imagination? What current theoretical or methodological trends might enable or inhibit increased attention to the Christian Right in literary studies?

Each of the essays in this cluster takes up some facet of Christian Right literary culture and production to help us begin to answer these questions about the stories that conservative white Christians tell themselves, and those that outsiders tell about the Christian Right. In them, we try to map the systems, industries, concepts, and discourse essential to current cultural dynamics among religion, politics, markets, and aesthetics in the United States.

Rachel Griffis examines the genesis of the Christian romance novel, demonstrating how evangelical writers predicate visions of a good life on patriarchal gender norms that reverse the subtle but subversive logic of earlier novels of manners by the likes of Hannah Webster Foster and Jane Austen. In a related exploration of evangelicalism's innovative genres, Melodie Roschman explains how the "purity manuals" of the late 1990s and early 2000s married traditional Christian literary forms, such as testimony and parable, with patriarchal and heteronormative values in ways that conditioned an entire generation of young evangelicals to regard the hegemonic masculinity of the Christian Right as integral to conservative Christianity both at home and in the political sphere. 

Bryan Santin examines the woefully underread context of Black religious conservatism in Toni Morrison's Paradise (1997) and helps makes sense of recent SCOTUS decisions that have transformed the reputation of Clarence Thomas from that of a staid justice who rarely speaks into that of an animated judicial activist. Erik Sierra shares first-hand experiences with SCOTUS in the heyday of battles for religious liberty that may well provide a glimpse into our near future. Staying in the realm of religious efforts to shape American political culture, Benjamin Rolsky offers a rhetorical reading of an all but forgotten literary artifact of the Christian Right: direct mail. 

Jenny Van Houdt helps us to understand how models of reading cultivated on the Christian Right at the turn of the millennium paved the way for the seemingly outlandish affection for QAnon among white evangelicals. Ken Paradis offers a fine-grained historicization of Christian Right fiction in the twenty-first century as it turned from apocalypse to the Tolkienesque "grim." Like Van Houdt and Paradis, Caleb Spencer finds in Left Behind a quintessential, though counterintuitive, expression of evangelical politics as more deeply rooted in affect than doctrine. 

Andrew Connolly takes us into the world of Christian publishing through his treatment of the Christian Booksellers Association and two influential evangelical magazines. Much as they did with book publishing and glossy magazines, evangelicals created a parallel music industry in the age of the Christian Right, and it is there that Brittney Rakowski explores the strange consonances between Christian rap and the resurgence of Calvinist theology she witnessed in the early 2000s. Scott Okamoto testifies to the conflicts between evangelical politics and literary studies from his experiences in Christian higher education, part of the network of cultural institutions that have come to define the Christian Right. Ray Horton reflects on how the tension between his literary training and his Christian Right upbringing reshaped his life and values and ultimately gave him new eyes through which to see the world.

Christopher Douglas (@crddouglas) is Professor of English at the University of Victoria and the author of If God Meant to Interfere: American Literature and the Rise of the Christian Right. His recent publications include "Christian White Supremacy in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead Novels" and "Silence: Kidnapping, Abuse, and Murder in Early-Twenty-First-Century White Evangelical Fiction."

Matthew Mullins (@MullinsMattR) is Associate Professor of English and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina and the author of Postmodernism in Pieces (Oxford 2016) and Enjoying the Bible (Baker 2021).


  1. See e.g., Alex Henderson, "'Outnumbered': White Evangelicals Find Themselves on the Decline," Salon, July 12, 2021.; Nina Burleigh, "Evangelical Christians Helped Elect Donald Trump, but Their Time as a Major Political Force Is Coming to an End," Newsweek, December 13, 2018.[]
  2. PRRI Staff, "The 2020 Census of American Religion," Public Religion Research Institution, July 8, 2021. For the possibility that the Christian Right's political presence itself encouraged disaffiliation among some faithful, see Claude S. Fischer, "Conservatives Are Driving Americans Away from Religion," Boston Review, October 15, 2014; and Michael Hout and Claude S. Fischer, “Explaining Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Political Backlash and Generational Succession, 1987-2012,” Sociological Science 1 (October 2014): 423-447.[]
  3. Examples include Jennie Chapman, Plotting Apocalypse: Reading, Agency, and Identity in the Left Behind Series (Jackson: University Press Mississippi, 2013); Amy Hungerford's chapter on Left Behind in Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion Since 1960 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 107-132; the several articles in the special issue of Christianity & Literature 69:1 (March 2020) on Literature and/or the Christian Right; Christopher Douglas, "Revenge Is a Genre Best Served Old: Apocalypse in Christian Right Literature and Politics," Religions 13, no.1:21 (2022); Christopher Douglas, "This Is The Shack That Job Built: Theodicy and Polytheism in William Paul Young's Evangelical Bestseller," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 88, no. 2 (June 2020): 505-542; Sherryll Mleynek, "The Rhetoric of the 'Jewish Problem' in the Left Behind Novels," Literature and Theology 19, no. 4 (November 2005): 367-383; Kenneth Paradis, "Unsafe Fantasy: Faith, the Fantastic and the Evangelical Imagination," The Journal of American Culture, 42, no. 3 (September 2019): 229-241. It is possible to overstate the difference between literary approaches and other disciplinary approaches to Christian Right/evangelical fiction, given interdisciplinary overlaps, methods and interests. Literary scholars will also appreciate the excellent work of: Amy Johnson Frykholm, Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Jan Blodgett, Protestant Evangelical Literary Culture and Contemporary Society (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997); Crawford Gribben, Writing the Rapture: Prophecy Fiction in Evangelical America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Glenn W. Shuck, Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity (New York: NYU Press, 2005); Daniel Silliman, Reading Evangelicals: How Christian Fiction Shaped a Culture and a Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021).[]
  4. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007) 377, 12.[]
  5. John McClure, Partial Faiths: Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007); Amy Hungerford, Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion Since 1960 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).[]
  6. Hungerford, Belief, 7.[]
  7. Hungerford, Belief, 128.[]
  8. Another early instigator of this conversation was Michael Kaufmann, "The Religious, the Secular, and Literary Studies: Rethinking the Secularization Narrative in Histories of the Profession," New Literary History38, no. 4 (Autumn 2007): 607-628. See also Lori Branch, "Postsecular Studies," in The Routledge Companion to Literature and Religion, ed. Mark Knight (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), 91-101; and Tracy Fessenden, "The Problem of the Postsecular," American Literary History 26, no. 1 (2014): 154-67.[]

Past clusters