Between 1945 and 1980, evangelicals emerged as a key political constituency in American politics, helping to form the Religious Right and work for the election of Ronald Reagan and other conservative Republicans. This article argues that they embraced a distinctive type of revivalist nationalism, centered around the mass revival. Case studies of Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Jerry Falwell, and Ronald Reagan offer a narrative of postwar revivalist nationalism and demonstrate that evangelicals renegotiated the relationship between personal salvation and national renewal during this period, facilitating their mass entry into partisan politics. Billy Graham presented in his early crusades an unsophisticated assumption that mass conversion would lead to national renewal. Later revivalists such as Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, sought to reorient revivalism toward directed political organization, leading in the 1970s to decreasing emphasis on personal conversion and increasing focus on the political process. By the 1980 presidential election, the Religious Right had completely abandoned the priority of personal conversion and sought instead to revive the “principles” of a Christian America. Ronald Reagan embodied this principle-oriented revival, and helped crystalize a revivalist nationalism that remains embedded in contemporary evangelical politics.
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