Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Margaret Susan Thompson
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
History | History of Religion | Other History
After the 1980 presidential election, the New Christian Right (NCR) became a political force that could no longer be ignored. Since the early 1980s the political agenda of the NCR has expanded beyond culture war issues. Currently the NCR addresses several international issues such as, human trafficking, the spread of HIV, and religious persecution. Since the NCR is one of many political forces that presently influences policy makers, it’s become crucial for the public to possess a good understanding of what the NCR is, and grasp what lies behind its intersecting religious dynamics.
Unfortunately, much of the American public as well as the mainstream media are unaware of, or glaze over the intellectual and religious complexity of the NCR. Most media coverage highlights its evangelical leadership, while it fails to emphasize the role non-evangelical political activists, and intellectuals played in the development of this alliance. This type of media coverage not only mischaracterizes the NCR, but leads the public to believe that all evangelicals are a part of this interfaith alliance.
This thesis attempts to expand beyond the evangelical aspect of the NCR. Like evangelical leaders, a group of Catholic conservative elites played a pivotal role in establishing the intellectual as well as political foundation of the NCR. Although evangelical leaders provided the NCR with much of its public leadership, Catholic conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Phyllis Schlafly, Brent Bozell, Paul Weyrich, and Richard Viguerie provided political guidance, and created a religious conservatism which became the intellectual foundation of the NCR.
These claims are argued by historically reconstructing the formation of the NCR. This reconstruction illustrates how historical events in conjunction with the actions of few Catholic conservatives, resulted in the formation of religious conservatism, and led to political activism in the defense of traditional family values. Another important reason I choose to reconstruct the formation of the NCR is to dispel common misconceptions regarding this interfaith alliance.
One misconception I hope to correct is that evangelical leaders primarily became politically involved to fight a moral quest against abortion.
Although abortion became one of the prime culture wars issues, the Roe v. Wade decision was not the event that led to the political unification of these historically hostile faiths. I want the reader to understand that the formation of the NCR was a complex and lengthy process that did not occur overnight, or due to the efforts of leaders from one religious faith.
After researching this topic, I concluded that the NCR is a fragile and loosely knit political alliance. Historical inter-faith tension still lingers amongst some leaders of the NCR, which leads me to believe that political pragmatism is the main adhesive keeping this interfaith alliance together. As author Randall Balmer stated, “The New Christian Right is a marriage of political convenience.” This coalition is extremely reminiscent of a business relationship, in which all parties gain from associating with one another. Simply put, at the core of the NCR there seems to be nothing more that a strategic coalition developed, and maintained to reach common political objectives.
While researching the formation of the NCR I also discovered that the events that took place from 1950 to the 1970s were catalysts that incited the formation of this defensive alliance. These historical events increasingly polarized religious faiths from within, and created common political goals amongst the religiously orthodox. Although these historical events were important factors that contributed to the formation of the NCR, I also found that Catholic conservatives played a critical role in the development of this interfaith alliance. Catholic conservative intellects and political activists filled an intellectual void that existed within the evangelical political movement.
In researching this topic I used a variety of sources. Throughout my research I attempted to balance my first and secondary sources. My first hand sources consisted of interviews, and several books written by some of the Catholic conservatives I focused on within the thesis. Interviewees Phyllis Schlafly, Randall Balmer, and George Weigel were chosen because I felt that they would provide my work with a variety of opinions and historical information regarding the NCR. Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum and prominent political activist, provided my work with invaluable insight on the development of the pro-family movement. Author and Columbia University professor, Randall Balmer also provided my thesis with insight on the role evangelical leaders played in the formation of the NCR.
Secondary sources varied from books written by historians, to documentaries and internet resources. Although, I tried to minimally incorporate internet resources for this project. In order to write a comprehensive piece on this interfaith alliance, I included a wide variety of sources, and read books that varied within their historical interpretations regarding the formation of the NCR. Several other insightful books exist on the topic, however given the magnitude of this projected I was unable to include them all.
 Randall Balmer, interview by author, Columbus, GA, April 24, 2007.
 The word orthodox is not used in the traditional sense that describes specific doctrinal creeds or practices. But is used to describe a group of people whose world view and belief system is committed to an “external definable authority,” which defines “at least in abstract, a consistent, unchangeable measure of value, purpose, goodness, bother personal and collective.”
James Davison Hunter. Culture Wars the Struggle to Define America: Making sense of the battles over the family, art, education, laws, and politics [New York: Basic Books, 1991], 44.
Martinez, Mary C., "Architects and Foot Soldiers: The Catholic Influence within the New Christian Right" (2007). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 589.
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