Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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Also known as the New Christian Right (NCR) or the Religious Right , this label was first used in the late 1970s to describe the surge in political activity among Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals. Its usage has since been flexible, sometimes referring to the broad community of religious conservatives and other times referring to a small subset of institutionalized organizations pursuing cultural and economic conservatism.

The Christian Right arose in the late 1970s in response to such broad concerns as moral decline and secularization of American life as well as such narrow concerns as the attempt of federal regulatory agencies to intrude into the operations of evangelical and fundamentalist institutions. The Christian Right was embodied by the Rev. Jerry Falwell and his organization, the Moral Majority, in the early 1980s; more recently, Pat Robertson and his Christian Coalition have assumed that status.

Although social scientists use the term Christian Right , those who are involved in the movement sometimes consider it a pejorative phrase. They prefer such terms as religious conservatives or pro-family conservatives to describe their place in the American political system.

The scholarly literature on the Christian Right is vast. It has reflected that maturation of the movement. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, sociologists focused heavily on the rise of the Christian Right, seeking to explain its emergence through frameworks emphasizing perceived threats to the social status of the movement's members; political scientists focused on estimating the movement's electoral contribution to the Republican Party; scholars of religious studies explored the theological underpinnings of the movement and undertook cross-national comparisons to other fundamentalist movements.

By the mid-1980s, scholars began offering widely divergent interpretations of the Christian Right's progress and prospects. Those applying secularization theories believed it was in sharp decline and doomed to fail, while those applying social movement theories argued that the Christian Right was successfully institutionalizing itself. More recently, as the Christian Right has focused on exercising influence in state and local arenas, as one part of a much broader devolution of political power promoted by Republicans in Congress, scholars have conducted examinations of the impact of the Christian Right in subnational settings. Although the clarity and consistency of scholarship on the Christian Right was uneven in its early years, it too has matured over time. Many excellent treatments exist on different facets of the movement.

See also Evangelicalism, Politics, Televangelism

Matthew C. Moen


S. Bruce et al. (eds.), The Rapture of Politics (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1995)

M. Lienesch, Redeeming America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993)

M. C. Moen, The Transformation of the Christian Right (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992)

D. Oldfield, The Right and the Righteous (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996)

M. J. Rozell and C. Wilcox, Second Coming (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996)

C. Wilcox, God's Warriors (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992)

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