Faith Networks: National Broadcasting and the Making of American Religion

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Kenaston, Connor, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hale, Grace, AS-History, University of Virginia

This dissertation, “Faith Networks: National Broadcasting and the Making of American Religion,” examines religion and mass culture during the “Golden Age” of radio. It argues that U.S. clergy profoundly embraced radio broadcasting in the 1920s and 1930s and, in doing so, helped construct and popularize the concept of “American religion.” Clergy broadcasters gave their blessing to powerful commercial radio networks in exchange for the cultural power they believed was necessary to redeem mass culture. Though many contemporaries insisted that the United States was a Protestant country, commercial radio networks’ broadcast a filtered spectrum of sounds, theologies, and people and described them as representative of American religious life. Unlike previous scholarship that has focused primarily on conservative evangelicals, “Faith Networks” draws on a diverse set of programs featuring Black gospel quartets, anti-Semitic priests, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, religious-themed soap operas, and more. This broader scope allows “Faith Networks” to demonstrate how mass culture is a contested terrain where Americans have reimagined themselves, their religions, and the bonds that unite and divide them. Bringing together history, religious studies, and cultural studies, “Faith Networks” offers an innovative way to think about “American religion” not as set of religions practiced within the United States but as a concept created by an emerging mass culture.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
religion, radio, media, mass culture, broadcasting, clergy, pluralism, sound, United States, commercialism
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