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Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science

Wednesday, December 4, 2019
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
Spiritual Mobilization: Re-selling market fundamentalism to America's clergy during the New Deal
Erik M. Conway, Visiting Associate in the Humanities, Caltech,

In 1935, James Fifield, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, decided he needed to lead a movement against the New Deal, the "social gospel" that was the mainstay of liberal theology of the time, and the socialist economics that he believed underlay it all. To him, this nexus of ideas represented pagan statism—enlarging the state at the expense of God. In his newsletters and pamphlets, then in radio shows and finally a TV effort, Fifield and his supporters railed against social welfare programs and state regulatory agencies, fixated most aggressively against the idea of economic security. His "big hit" with funders came in 1944 when the National Association of Manufacturers invited him to speak at their National Conference in New York; he came out of the experience with funding from a number of wealthy businessmen. One, J. Howard Pew of Sun Oil, would fund him for almost two decades. Spiritual Mobilization helped launch the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education; Pew and Fifield worked with both Norman Vincent Peale and Billy Graham to launch their foundations and their related magazines, Guideposts and Christianity Today. Pew also financed the magazine Christian Economics to help sell libertarian economic theory to clergy. The Foundation for Economic Education wrote curricula for seminaries to ensure future clergy were properly educated in "free market" principles. Their decades-long effort to resell market fundamentalism to America via the clergy reveals their recognition that markets are social products, and that the path towards a new anti-statist, business-friendly order lay in convincing the public that government is anti-Christian.

For more information, please contact Fran Tise by phone at 626-395-3609 or by email at ftise@hss.caltech.edu.