Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Leisa D Meyer


In 1978, James Dobson, psychologist and founder of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family, Inc., published Preparing for Adolescence: Advice from One of America's Foremost Family Psychologists on How to Survive the Coming Years of Change. Over the next twenty years Dobson's pocket-sized advice manual went on to sell over a million copies and symbolized the desire of white conservative evangelicals to control the moral and social development of adolescents---and in turn the nation. During the same period, black conservative evangelicals were engaged in a separate yet equally vocal struggle to support adolescents and their families against generations-old stereotypes of sexual deviance. Despite their differing goals, both white and black conservative evangelicals viewed the education of young people as critical to the health and influence of their respective communities. Remarkably, however, young peoples' lived experience is rarely studied as a distinct field within American religious history and studies. Moreover, historians often exclude conservative black evangelicals from studies of evangelical Christianity and instead subsume them under the generic and artificial grouping of "The Black Church." This dissertation critically analyzes how conservative evangelicals understood the relationship between sexuality, gender and race in the development of adolescent sex education and ethical leadership. I argue that the critical factoring distinguishing the two groups was not politics, but diverging ideas of American citizenship. Moreover, this project reclaims evangelicalism as a theological identity rather than a political one and illustrates the symbiotic relationship between faith, the human body, and notions of belonging.



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