The Revelation of John (Hagee): American Christian Zionism, "Religion,” “Politics,” and Identity
The Revelation of John (Hagee) critically examines one recent and increasingly assertive American manifestation of what is known as Christian Zionism. Its primary data consists of fieldwork undertaken in the United States and Israel with the Christian Zionist organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI), as well as a wide range of sermons, books, e-mails, pamphlets, and speeches. Through analysis of this data, I examine the way mundane or “profane” activities are reconstituted by Christian Zionists into something that is said to be extraordinary, or “religious," therefore protecting their political activities from critical scrutiny, while simultaneously enabling them to recast opposing views as either misguided or inherently evil.
By employing recent critical work that points to the intrinsically pohtical nature of the category “religion” I attempt to show how earlier work on the subject of contemporary Christian Zionism is based on an intra-Christian polemic that has produced what I call a “folk conception" of Christian Zionism. This folk conception prioritizes the interiority of belief that is said to be prior to, and thus the primary catalyst of, more observable, “political” activities, at the same time setting the agenda for how contemporary Christian Zionism is often studied. Moreover, I show how critics’ emphasis on what is construed as a “literal reading” of scripture acts as a polemic to revalorize these authors’ more “authentic” rehgious identities. These authors take the reasons for Christian support for Israel as settled, as the result of a literal biblical hermeneutic. In contrast, in this dissertation I consider the wider social contexts and discursive practices that enable Christian Zionists to make their activities meaningful in the first place. This study contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the politics of contemporary Christian Zionism by considering the wider social contexts and contests in which they are engaged.
One main theme that runs through each chapter is the way biblical and historical events are represented and remembered in the service of authorizing, de-historicizing and thus naturalizing the borders of Christians Zionists’ contemporary social formation. A second theme that emerges is the way seemingly odd or counterintuitive beliefs and the activities which they purportedly produce, are, in fact, ordinary.
Overall, this dissertation shows that a “literal reading” of scripture is not a stable category, but rather a discursive tool used by critics to show the hermeneutical “errors” of Christian Zionists, and by Christian Zionists to authorize and protect their activities from scrutiny by asserting their origins in the “plain” meaning of scripture. Both uses are significant because they help produce and reproduce both Christian Zionists’ and their critics’ group identities as more "authentic," and thus transform what is always political into nothing more than “nature.”