Grove City College Professor of History Dr. Gillis Harp’s latest book, “Protestants and American Conservatism,” is subtitled “A Short History,” but it takes a longer view than most studies of the subject.
Political scientists, historians and journalists looking at the nexus of religion and politics generally begin in the 1970s, with the rise of the modern Christian right and the Moral Majority. Some track the roots of that movement to the post-war years of the 20th century, but few deeply examine anything before 1945.
In contrast, Harp traces the relationship between Protestantism and conservative politics over four centuries from “the Puritans to Palin,” according to publisher Oxford University Press. “Protestants and American Conservatism” begins in the Colonial era and takes readers through the Revolution and founding, the Civil War, the Gilded Age, the decades before and after World War II and finally, the success and failure of the Religious Right over the last 50 years.
Harp’s subject matter has made political headlines for decades, especially since the election of President Trump, who enjoys the overwhelming support of white evangelical voters despite that voting bloc’s past rejection of similarly-flawed candidates.
"I have long puzzled over the relationship between American Protestants and a certain sort of political and economic conservatism,” Harp said. “Some evangelicals' assumptions about the relationship aren't well thought out either theologically or historically. My desire was to address both the theological and historical dimensions but, as an historian, especially the latter. I began the book long before 2016, but I think it can also speak to the curious case of white evangelical enthusiasm for Trump's candidacy."
The book garnered advance praise from other historians and scholars.
“(The) wide-ranging narrative offers a remarkably innovative perspective on the centuries-long symbiotic relationship between evangelical Protestantism and American conservatism. Its bold (but carefully documented) thesis will change the way we think about politics and religion in America,” Daniel K. Williams, author of “God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right,” said of Harp’s work.
“Harp has taken the long view in showing why an issue at the forefront of contemporary political interest deserves full historical treatment. His carefully researched and clearly argued account of the long-standing inner connections between conservative Protestants and conservative politics illuminates both the nation's past and the contentious present. It is both a word in season and a rewarding reflection on a very long history," Mark Noll, author of “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis,” said.