On April 30th, Brittany Shoot of Religion Dispatches, interviewed Eileen Luhr, author of Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture (UC Press, January 2009). Below, are a couple of questions Luhr answered. Please read the rest of the interview entitled, "Christian Punk Meets American Pop; Evangelicals in the ’Burbs."
In Witnessing Suburbia, you briefly explain the roots of
your academic interest in the convergence of popular culture, music,
and evangelism. Can you say more about how you came to write the book?
interest in Christian conservatism began when I was home from college
and watching the 1992 Republican National Convention. The convention
took place at a bad time for Republicans—the Cold War had ended and
George H.W. Bush had raised taxes despite a pledge not to. As a result,
he didn’t have much to run on other than the concept of “family
values,” which the Republicans invoked following the riots in Los
Angeles (this was when Dan Quayle condemned the TV character “Murphy
Brown” for having a child out of wedlock in a speech to the
In Houston, Pat Buchanan gave a primetime
speech in which he declared a “cultural war” for the “soul of America.”
I was appalled by the speech, but I had siblings who thought it was
great. So my initial interest in the topic was that “family values”
could provoke vastly different reactions—I found it exclusive, but
others found it inclusive. A few years later, I went to graduate school
to write about the culture of “family values,” and I found that not
much had been written about the music and popular culture of
What was your favorite part of your research?
favorite research was for the chapter about Christian metal bands. I
was never a fan of “mainstream” metal music, so I felt that I could
treat both Christian and “secular” bands fairly. Still, I found the
claims and the stunts to be pretty outrageous.
had some really strange ideas and some interesting justifications for
wearing makeup and having long hair. I had a database of hundreds of
Christian metal bands, and I poured through all kinds of fan magazines
to follow them. My favorite anecdote is the one about an obscure band
from Texas called Stryken. They attended a Motley Crue concert wearing
futuristic suits of armor. They somehow managed to get a 14’ x 8’
wooden cross into the arena (who knows what people bring to these
shows?) and took it to the area in front of the stage. They were
eventually kicked out of the concert for proselytizing.
What was the most surprising thing you discovered?
researching chapter two, which looks at Christian youth subcultures, I
found a really interesting punk zine called “Thieves and Prostitutes”
that had intricate artwork (I believe one of the editors is now a
tattoo artist) and articles that tried to claim Jesus as the original
punk. A student in Florida was suspended from school for distributing
the zine, in part because the principal misunderstood what the art
signified—he was afraid it was blasphemous. The 700 Club
featured the suspended student because they felt his religious rights
were violated by the school. This was one of the moments where
political and cultural activism intersected.
* To read the rest of the interview, please visit the Religion Dispatches website.
* Special thanks to Religion Dispatches for letting us post an excerpt of the article.