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Ambivalent Miracles

Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing

Nancy D. Wadsworth

Race, Ethnicity, and Politics
Cloth · 320 pp. · 6.13 x 9.25 · ISBN 9780813935317 · $39.50 · Feb 2014
Ebook · 320 pp. · ISBN 9780813935324 · $39.50 · Feb 2014

Over the past three decades, American evangelical Christians have undergone unexpected, progressive shifts in the area of race relations, culminating in a national movement that advocates racial integration and equality in evangelical communities. The movement, which seeks to build cross-racial relationships among evangelicals, has meant challenging well-established paradigms of church growth that built many megachurch empires. While evangelical racial change (ERC) efforts have never been easy and their reception has been mixed, they have produced meaningful transformation in religious communities. Although the movement as a whole encompasses a broad range of political views, many participants are interested in addressing race-related political issues that impact their members, such as immigration, law enforcement, and public education policy.

Ambivalent Miracles traces the rise and ongoing evolution of evangelical racial change efforts within the historical, political, and cultural contexts that have shaped them. Nancy D. Wadsworth argues that the stunning breakthroughs this movement has achieved, its curious political ambivalence, and its internal tensions are products of a complex cultural politics constructed at the intersection of U.S. racial and religious history and the meaning-making practices of conservative evangelicalism. Employing methods from the emerging field of political ethnography, Wadsworth draws from a decade’s worth of interviews and participant observation in ERC settings, textual analysis, and survey research, as well as a three-year case study, to provide the first exhaustive treatment of ERC efforts in political science.

A 2014 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title


Drawing scholarly attention to [efforts at racial reconciliation] is important in and of itself. But Wadsworth does far more than this in her book. Through deft use of political ethnography, she examines the motivations of those involved in this movement, and perhaps more interestingly why those involved in such striking and seemingly unlikley efforts aimed at progressive social change have at the same time been highly reluctant to extend their activities into the political realm....Highly recommended.

— Choice

This is one of the very best books on race and religion. It is thoughtful and fair and engages in deep yet highly accessible analysis. We are allowed to truly enter the worlds being studied. It is riveting reading.

— Michael O. Emerson, Rice University, coauthor of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America

Nancy Wadsworth has provided a superlative work in integrating considerations of theology, academic social science, macro-level theory, and the interaction of religion and politics at the level of the pew. This book combines sophisticated theoretical analyses with sensitive thick descriptions of individuals and religious communities. Moreover, this important contribution is a pleasure to read.

— Ted G. Jelen, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, author of To Serve God and Mammon: Church-State Relations in American Politics

Ambivalent Miracles is beautifully crafted and deeply researched, with powerful analysis that sharply revises our understanding of race, religion, and politics in contemporary America. This is that rare book about meaning, justice, and social transformation whose rich store of surprises compels a reexamination of the ties that link belief to practice, identity to action, and boundaries to culture.

— Ira Katznelson, Columbia University, author of Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time

Wadwsworth breaks new ground when she turns her attention to the decades after the civil rights movement....[An] insightful and well-written book.

— Journal of Southern Religion
About the author

Nancy D. Wadsworth, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Denver, is coeditor, with Robin Dale Jacobson, of Faith and Race in American Political Life (Virginia).


Choice Outstanding Academic Title from American Library Association