Barry Hankins on Jesus, Gin, and The Culture Wars
Date: May 12th, 2013

Most astute social observers today agree that the United States is in the throes of a “culture war,” with issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and drug legalization taking center stage in many political debates.  But what if I told you that such “culture wars” are not uncommon in US history?  Indeed, Prof. Barry Hankins of Baylor University makes the argument that “cultural wars” are the default position in American history, and it was only during the 1930s – 1970s that we seemed to have been immune from such conflict.  He illustrates this point with a detailed discussion of The Roaring Twenties (and the decades leading up to that time), when issues such as Prohibition, evolution, obscenity, and a weakening of Christianity were the hot topics of the time.  We begin our discussion by noting the dramatic changes that the U.S. experienced around the turn of the 20th century, roughly from 1880 to 1920.  Rapid industrialization and urbanization, combined with new forms of immigration, set the stage for wide array of new cultural challenges facing the nation, in general, and Christianity in particular.  As the Roaring ’20s were known as the era of Prohibition (and the time of the “speak easy”), we start with that topic.  Prof. Hankins reviews the history of the temperance movement and reveals some surprising findings, such that alcohol consumption in the US during the 1820s was among the highest in the world and that temperance movements did help to sober the country up.  He notes this was true of Prohibition, as well, countering an often-used argument today regarding the legalization of drugs that such legal restrictions don’t really affect usage much.  Our conversation turns to some of the more charismatic characters of the era with a focus on Billy Sunday, a forerunner of today’s “megachurch” pastors.  Barry recounts Rev. Sunday’s life and how he harnessed his athletic fame in the name of evangelization.  Billy Sunday’s story is a nice reminder that “media star preachers” are not just a phenomenon of the late 20th century, but emerged in an era when people were becoming increasingly concentrated in cities and mass media such as radio and theater was beoming more common.  We also cover some of the more scandal-plagued preachers of the time including Aimee Semple-McPherson, J. Frank Norris, Daddy Grace, and Father Divine, reminding us that there probably is nothing new under the sun.  We then take up the topic of the factionalization occuring within Christianity that is going on during this time — fundamentalists vs modernists.  We discover that the liberal modernists tended to win these battles, often forcing more fundamentalist groups to break away and form new denominations.  Again, this is reminiscent of our current time.  The conversation then moves to an interesting puzzle that Barry is still thinking about, which is why the culture wars subsided between the 1930s and (roughly) 1980.  We both offer us some speculation on this topic and finish off with additional thoughts about what the culture wars of the 1920s has to tell us about our culture wars today.  Recorded: May 2, 2013.


Barry Hankins bio at Baylor University’s Department of History.

Jesus and Gin: Evangelicalism, the Roaring Twenties, and Today’s Culture Wars, by Barry Hankins.

American Evangelicals: A History of a Mainstream Religious Movement, by Barry Hankins.

The Second Great Awakening and the Transcendentalists, by Barry Hankins.


Matthew Sutton on Aimee Semple McPherson.

Mark Driscoll on the Growth of Mars Hill Church.

Thomas Kidd on the Great Awakening.

2 Responses to “Barry Hankins on Jesus, Gin, and The Culture Wars”

  1. […] this Research on Religion podcast, Tony Gill interviews Baylor University’s Barry Hankins whose book Jesus & Gin details […]

  2. […] Barry Hankins on Jesus, Gin, and the Culture Wars. […]

Leave a Reply

Listen or Download This Episode
Search The Podcast
To search the podcast, type a term and click the Search button.

Connect With Us