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Of Prophets and Propaganda: An Exploration of Modern Christian Dispensationalism Using the Work of Martin Riesebrodt


  • Acknowledgments: An initial draft of this article was presented in 2011 at “Comparing Religions: On Theory and Method. A Conference in Honor of Martin Riesebrodt.” I wish to thank the conference organizers Loren Lybarger and Mary Ellen Konieczny for their substantive engagement with this project after the conference as well as the reviewers and editors of JSSR. Their suggestions and help have made this a much stronger article.

Randall Reed, Appalachian State University, I.G. Greer Hall, Boone, NC 28608. E-mail:


Modern dispensationalism in the United States has been a thorny sociological problem. The sociodiscursive mechanism(s) by which dispensationalist preachers are able to propagate their message has yet to be determined. The theoretical work of Martin Riesebrodt, specifically his discussion of salvific demand, legitimation, and discursive and behavior-regulating practices, sheds light on Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins's best-selling Left Behind series and the equally popular dispensationalist writings of John Hagee. Dispensationalists create a demand for their message through the interpretation of current events using the apocalyptic lens of the dispensational scenario, which points to the imminence of the rapture and the global doom that will follow. As part of the propagandizing discourse (discursive practices) that promises escape from this cataclysm, dispensationalists preach a set of behavior-regulating practices that seek to constrain and control the actions of their adherents.