A new history explores the commercial heart of evangelical Christianity.
American evangelicalism is big business. For decades, the world’s largest media conglomerates have sought out evangelical consumers, and evangelical books have regularly become international best sellers. In the early 2000s, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life spent ninety weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list and sold more than thirty million copies. But why have evangelicals achieved such remarkable commercial success?
According to Daniel Vaca, evangelicalism depends upon commercialism. Tracing the once-humble evangelical book industry’s emergence as a lucrative center of the US book trade, Vaca argues that evangelical Christianity became religiously and politically prominent through business activity. Through areas of commerce such as branding, retailing, marketing, and finance, for-profit media companies have capitalized on the expansive potential of evangelicalism for more than a century.
Rather than treat evangelicalism as a type of conservative Protestantism that market forces have commodified and corrupted, Vaca argues that evangelicalism is an expressly commercial religion. Although religious traditions seem to incorporate people who embrace distinct theological ideas and beliefs, Vaca shows, members of contemporary consumer society often participate in religious cultures by engaging commercial products and corporations. By examining the history of companies and corporate conglomerates that have produced and distributed best-selling religious books, bibles, and more, Vaca not only illustrates how evangelical ideas, identities, and alliances have developed through commercial activity but also reveals how the production of evangelical identity became a component of modern capitalism.
With expert strokes, [Vaca] traces the history of the marriage of missionary zeal and financial reward that drove the evangelical publishing megabusiness…A brilliant achievement.
Impressive detail…Vaca shows how religious publishing, bookstores, and revival movements evolved into an integrated industry.
This is the book I’ve been waiting for. Vaca has penned a must-read account of how evangelicals built and sanctified their commercial world and, in doing so, made the modern religious marketplace. This book demands that we reckon with an American God worshipped in word and deed, and dollars and cents.
Makes a sophisticated case that book publishers, in particular, created the commercial infrastructure that made the modern religious movement possible…A well-crafted, thoroughly researched, and compelling account of a dynamic that every observer of American evangelicalism will recognize.
For too long American evangelicalism has been regarded as a subculture defined principally by common beliefs. Evangelicals Incorporated challenges that view, demonstrating the central role that Christian publishing houses have played for more than a century in creating an evangelical niche market. The stories behind the scenes that Daniel Vaca has uncovered are absolutely fascinating.
Deftly combining historical depth and sweep with theoretical sophistication, and rooted in extensive archival work—including archives that have never before, to my knowledge, been mined for work in US religious history—Evangelicals Incorporated advances our historical understanding of a critical arena of American religious life, the evangelical book business in the age of mass culture, with greater depth and scope than any other work.
With Evangelicals Incorporated, Vaca has written the book that should make students of American economy finally account for the evangelical strategies that define commercial success. It will define the study of evangelicalism for the next generation of scholars. This is history as critique, and we need it now.
Provides essential background on the history of American evangelicalism…Defining evangelicalism as a commercial religion, Vaca offers a fascinating history of evangelical publishing from the 19th century to the present…A great read that helps make sense of much of the last century of American evangelicalism.
Shows how some evangelical publishers that lived by bestsellers died by bestsellers.
Brilliant…A provocative and compelling reinterpretation of evangelicalism in the modern United States with which scholars and general readers alike will be wrestling for a long time to come.
An insightful dive into what were arguably the big three evangelical publishers of the twentieth century…Driven by impressive archival research, Vaca makes his upshot seem downright self-evidentiary: Evangelicalism is a marketing strategy.
- 336 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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