Oil has long inspired Americans to think about their future in sacred terms. Extracted from the earth in mysterious ways, often with the help of spiritualists, oil was at its origins imagined as the divinely sanctioned lifeblood of a modernizing nation. America’s powerbrokers and rank-and-file both ascribed a special status to this resource, and in turn used its wealth to construct and legitimate imposing corporate and church institutions, missionary organizations, and an expansive petro-state. This lecture explores how religion and oil together shaped existence for modern Americans, paying special attention to oil patches west of the Mississippi, 1890s-1940s, when, amid petroleum’s most violent boom-bust cycles, wildcatters and residents theologized their encounter with soil and its subsurface wealth and constructed a distinctive life geared to new logics of capitalism, technology, time, energy, environment, and political power.
Darren Dochuk, Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame is the author of From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (2011), winner of the Allen Nevins Prize from the American Historical Association and the Ellis Hawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians. See the poster about this talk.