Master of Arts (M.A.)
This thesis traces the impact and legacy of American preacher Billy Graham through an analysis of his media in the 1950’s and 60’s and the mourning that followed his death in 2018. Considered one of the most important figures in Evangelicalism, Graham’s life and death are crucial to understanding the inner workings and motivations of evangelism in the U.S. during the post-war period and through the 21st century. Graham’s position as a preacher of world renown began after a series of successful “crusades,” large revivals held under tents or in arenas, in Los Angeles in 1949. Following his rise to fame, Graham would serve as “spiritual counsel” to every U.S. president since Harry Truman, engaging in politics under the auspices of religiosity. Graham also engaged with popular forms of entertainment at this time, centering himself within the spectacle of film and television as he produced evangelical content on a mass scale for the purpose of fulfilling Christianity’s universalizing goals. Graham’s life’s work established him as an extremely influential figure in both the church and the state, a role which continued after his death. Many intricacies of the relationship between politics and evangelicalism were unveiled in the wake of Graham’s death. The mourning of Graham as an event that was at once public, communal, and individual illustrates the influence of Graham’s preaching on the way in which he was grieved. Aspects of Graham’s funeral, from the guest list to the casket to the government honorifics he received, speak to both his relevance and to the value of spectacle in American mourning. Each of the following sections demonstrate the value of spectacle in the life and death of Billy Graham. In centering himself among spectacular entertainment, Graham was able to achieve Christ-like prominence among a religious sector quick to associate themselves with the famed “unproblematic” preacher. This prominence allowed Graham to further religious goals within politics, a phenomenon that has continued in his honor since his death. As such, Graham and his spectacular presence serve as a bridge between Christianity and Congress.
© The Author
Rodgers, Colleen Kirkland, "God's Not Dead, But Billy Graham Is: Media And Mourning In American Evangelicalism" (2022). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. William & Mary. Paper 1673281692.