Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Deborah Whitehead

Second Advisor

Greg Johnson

Third Advisor

Elias Sacks

Abstract

Theologically conservative Protestants have, at least since the beginning of the twentieth century, attempted to secure the continued relevance of the idea of eternal damnation in the face of perceived growing public antagonism or disinterest towards the doctrine. While this thesis does concede that some of this hell-talk among American fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants has arisen in political contexts, it is nevertheless crucial to understand the distinctly theological importance clergy, theologians, and laypeople alike assigned to hell. Many of these figures saw belief in hell as essential to the intellectual coherence of their Christian way of life, and they employed a variety of theological and rhetorical means to ensure that American Christians’ faith in damnation did not wane.

Yet, by the end of the twentieth century, many evangelicals were nevertheless coming to see certain aspects of hell and eternal damnation as morally problematic. Because of these debates and those surrounding the increasing number of “near death experiences,” hell served as central site of contemporary intra-evangelical wrestling with questions of religious authority and identity.

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