Research Programs: Summer Stipends

Period of Performance

5/1/2017 - 7/31/2017

Funding Totals

$6,000.00 (approved)
$6,000.00 (awarded)

A History of Religious Activism and Intelligence Gathering in the U.S. after the Civil War

FAIN: FT-254546-17

Michael Joseph McVicar, PhD
Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL 32306-0001)

Writing of a book on the surveillance of political and religious opponents by American Christian organizations between the Civil War and the early 21st century.

“God’s Watchers” seeks to rethink the history of religion in the United States by focusing on the problem of surveillance in American culture. Unlike recent works in American religious history that focus on the problems of secularism and the legal boundaries of church and state, this project concentrates on techniques of surveillance to argue that historians have paid far too much attention to problems of belief, theology, and legal precedent while paying far too little attention to the mechanisms of social regulation and policing that have characterized American religious organizations. The resulting narrative offers a complex story of overlapping alliances between religious activists and law enforcement agents, violent conflict between business interests and the forces of organized labor, and the mixing and melding of the agents of church, state, and voluntary associations into a dense tangle of political intrigue and social upheaval.

Associated Products

Charts, Indexes, and Files: Surveillance, Information Management, and the Visualization of Subversion in Mainline Protestantism (Article)
Title: Charts, Indexes, and Files: Surveillance, Information Management, and the Visualization of Subversion in Mainline Protestantism
Author: Michael J. McVicar
Abstract: This essay explores how some Americans came to view the Federal Council of Churches (FCC) and, more broadly, ecumenical mainline Protestantism as a threat to the national security interests of the United States. By focusing on the efforts of various elements in the federal bureaucracy—including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Chemical Warfare Service, and Military Intelligence—and the work of average Americans to investigate the FCC, the essay examines how techniques of surveillance and information management helped shape the way Americans came to understand religion in the twentieth century. The essay develops three interconnected themes: first, the rise of America's national security surveillance establishment in the United States after World War I; second, the development of new methods of information management and visualization in corporate and state bureaucracies; and, third, the rise of voluntary, private surveillance in the wake of World War I. Through these three themes, the essay highlights how a network of federal bureaucrats, business leaders, and average citizens used graphs, indexes, and files to interpret mainline, ecumenical Christianity as a threat to domestic security in the United States. Ultimately, the project suggests that scholarly efforts to assess fissures in U.S. Protestantism have focused too much on controversies over belief and theology—especially those related to evolutionary theory, eschatology, and scriptural inerrancy—and paid far too little attention to the emerging bureaucratic systems of state and corporate surveillance that helped to document, visualize, and disseminate these accusations in the first place.
Year: 2020
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Cambridge Core
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: DOI
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation
Publisher: The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture