Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor
Graduate Studies Director
Wilson-Short Hall 352
Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2005
Academic & Professional Interests:
Sutton teaches courses in 20th century United States history, cultural history, and religious history.
Research and Publications:
Sutton is currently writing a book tentatively entitled Spies and unHoly Lies: How American Missionaries-Turned-Covert-Agents Helped Win World War II and Shape the Future of US Intelligence, which will be published by Basic Books in fall 2019. It is the never-before-told story of the missionaries, priests, rabbis, and other religious activists who went to work as spies for the United States government during World War II. Sutton draws on newly de-classified government documents and the private papers of some of the nation’s most colorful and intriguing clandestine agents to tell this long-buried story of the godly spooks who fought to balance their religious convictions with their commitment to making war on their nation’s, and their God’s, enemies. Through faith and doubt, frustration and perseverance, they struggled to make sense of the unique and dangerous path that they believed God had set before them. The unheralded holy spies at the heart of this book helped American leaders in the 1940s understand the complex ways in which the religious identities of peoples and nations impacted global conflict. Without necessarily anticipating the long-term consequences of their actions, they crafted new and important relationships for the United States with Muslims, Catholics, and Jews and they ran covert operations at the centers of global religious power, including Mecca, the Vatican, and Palestine. Missionary recruits played an outsized role in leading the US to victory and, once the war was won, two of them helped launch the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Their work inspired American leaders to draw up a new playbook for using religion to craft and meet foreign policy objectives, which then shaped everything from the US’s cold war crusade against “godless” communism to the “war on terror.”
American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014) is the first comprehensive history of modern American evangelicalism to appear in a generation. It was named a Choice (American Library Association) “Outstanding Academic Title of 2015.” He has co-edited a collection of essays entitled Faith in the New Millennium: The Future of American Religion and Politics (Oxford University Press, 2016), which uses history to explore how religion is shaping the modern world. He has written a textbook, Jerry Falwell and the Rise of the Religious Right: A Brief History with Documents, as part of the popular Bedford “History and Culture” series (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012). His first book, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Harvard University Press, 2007), won the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize from Harvard University Press, awarded annually to the best book in any discipline by a first-time author. The book also served as the basis for the Public Broadcasting Service documentary Sister Aimee, part of PBS’s American Experience series.
Sutton has published articles in the Journal of American History, Religion & American Culture, Church History, the Journal of Policy History, and the Public Historian as well as in numerous edited collections. His article, “Was FDR the Antichrist? The Birth of Fundamentalist Anti-liberalism in a Global Age,” won the Organization of American Historians’ Binkley-Stephenson Award for the best article published in the Journal of American History in 2012. Sutton has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Seattle Times, and the Guardian.
Sutton was named a 2016 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow. He spent the 2012-2013 academic year in Ireland as the Mary Ball Washington Professor of American History at University College Dublin (on a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant) and the 2014-2015 academic year in Germany as the Marsilius Kolleg Visiting Professor and Scholar-in-Residence at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Heidelberg University. He has also held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Sutton has been featured on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and MSNBC’s The Last Word, among many other news shows. He has lectured on religion, politics, and American culture across the U.S. and in universities in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Spain, and the Czech Republic.