History Matters Series - "Swinging, Blue-Jeans Religion": Christian Rock and Evangelical Culture in the 1960s and 1970s

Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Speaker: Randall J. Stephens
electric guitar

Alongside the headlines, radio sermons, about the Beatle scare in the mid-1960s there was another story emerging. The so-called generation gap and the trouble with wayward youth riled conservative Christians from coast to coast. In response to worries about the widening generation gap, many evangelicals — as well as Catholics and some mainline Protestants — made peace with the form of rock music. The embrace of rock was not too out of the ordinary. Conservative Christianity proved remarkably elastic, as believers had long used nearly any means necessary to steady the faltering or save the unconverted.

Billy Sunday, the most well-known fundamentalist preacher of the century, set the tone when he declared, "I'd stand on my head in a mud puddle if I thought it would help me win souls to Christ." By the late 1960s folk masses and traditional songs geared to a young audience became commonplace. Billy Graham shared the stage with Christian rock acts in the early 1970s and penned a book about the Jesus generation, even using the slang of "hippiedom" in the process. He, like many other faithful, decided that the genre could be baptized for godly purposes. Baby boomers and their parents — many of them Pentecostals — played a critical role in crafting a lively, more changeable, and culturally engaged faith. For evangelicalism to thrive, so went the logic, it had to adjust to the times and accommodate the youth culture. The new openness to the counterculture inspired millions.

Randall Stephens is an Associate Professor and Reader in History and American Studies at Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. He is the author The Fire Spreads: Holiness and Pentecostalism in the American South (Harvard University Press, 2008); The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, co-authored with physicist Karl Giberson (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011); and editor of Recent Themes in American Religious History (University of South Carolina Press, 2009).

His current book project, The Devil's Music: Rock and Christianity Since the 1950s (under contract with Harvard University Press), will examine the relationship of rock music to American Christianity as well as the emergence of Christian Rock. Stephens has written for the Atlantic, Salon, Raw Story, the Wilson Quarterly, Books & Culture, Quartz, Christian Century, the Independent, the Chronicle of Higher Ed, and the New York Times. In 2012 he was a Fulbright Roving Scholar in American Studies in Norway.

Wednesday, April 12th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


photograph of a Harmony H82 Rebel guitar by Jason Scragz via Wikimedia Commons

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