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Reactionary Fundamentalism in the Aftermath of Scopes: The Founding of William Jennings Bryan College

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Abstract:

The Scopes Evolution Trial of 1925 pitted religious fundamentalism against modern science and drew more attention than any court case of the young century. According to historian George Tindall, the cavalcade of spectators included “publicity-hounds, curiosity-seekers, professional evangelists and professional atheists, a blind mountaineer who proclaimed himself the world’s greatest authority on the Bible, ballyhoo agents for the Florida boom, hot dog and soda pop hucksters, and a miscellany of reporters and publicists.” One such journalist, H. L. Mencken of the Baltimore Sun, described the people in Dayton as “‘yokels,’ ‘morons,’ ‘hillbillies’ and ‘peasants,’” arguing that the display of “‘Baptist and Methodist Barbarism,’” established a cultural and intellectual abyss in the region. Dayton’s new image had a profound impact on the development of American fundamentalist Christianity. Religious historian Karen Armstrong contends that before the Scopes trial, “fundamentalists had been willing to work alongside socialists and liberal Christians.” Whereas after the trial, she continues, “they swung to the far right, where they remained. They felt humiliated by the media attack. It was very nasty. There was a sense of loss of prestige, and, above all, a sense of fear.”

Although the trial itself has been thoroughly documented, scholars have not discussed the psychological implications of this intense media disavowal of Dayton. This paper attempts to examine critically the national and international coverage of the trial and, using psychologist Alfred Adler’s theory of the Inferiority Complex, to analyze the response of local fundamentalist religious groups to this barrage of attention. One particular response to the Inferiority Complex that Adler described is the individual’s rejection of society, a turning inward towards cultural isolation. In a similar vein, historian Edward Larson argues that “as a result of the Scopes trial . . . fundamentalists responded by withdrawing. They did not abandon their faith, however, but set about constructing a separate subculture with independent religious, educational and social institutions.” William Jennings Brian, the leader of the fundamentalist crusade against evolution, died only a few days after the trial, and almost immediately his near-martyrdom set in motion plans to found a college in his honor. Opening its doors in 1930, Bryan College promoted a separatist and defensive stance among its students, and it continues today to lobby for the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design in American schools. The founding of William Jennings Bryan College and its presence in the contemporary fundamentalist movement represents a tangible institutional legacy of the Scopes evolution trial that remains unexamined.
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Maxwell, Angie. "Reactionary Fundamentalism in the Aftermath of Scopes: The Founding of William Jennings Bryan College" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p113894_index.html>

APA Citation:

Maxwell, A. C. "Reactionary Fundamentalism in the Aftermath of Scopes: The Founding of William Jennings Bryan College" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p113894_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: The Scopes Evolution Trial of 1925 pitted religious fundamentalism against modern science and drew more attention than any court case of the young century. According to historian George Tindall, the cavalcade of spectators included “publicity-hounds, curiosity-seekers, professional evangelists and professional atheists, a blind mountaineer who proclaimed himself the world’s greatest authority on the Bible, ballyhoo agents for the Florida boom, hot dog and soda pop hucksters, and a miscellany of reporters and publicists.” One such journalist, H. L. Mencken of the Baltimore Sun, described the people in Dayton as “‘yokels,’ ‘morons,’ ‘hillbillies’ and ‘peasants,’” arguing that the display of “‘Baptist and Methodist Barbarism,’” established a cultural and intellectual abyss in the region. Dayton’s new image had a profound impact on the development of American fundamentalist Christianity. Religious historian Karen Armstrong contends that before the Scopes trial, “fundamentalists had been willing to work alongside socialists and liberal Christians.” Whereas after the trial, she continues, “they swung to the far right, where they remained. They felt humiliated by the media attack. It was very nasty. There was a sense of loss of prestige, and, above all, a sense of fear.”

Although the trial itself has been thoroughly documented, scholars have not discussed the psychological implications of this intense media disavowal of Dayton. This paper attempts to examine critically the national and international coverage of the trial and, using psychologist Alfred Adler’s theory of the Inferiority Complex, to analyze the response of local fundamentalist religious groups to this barrage of attention. One particular response to the Inferiority Complex that Adler described is the individual’s rejection of society, a turning inward towards cultural isolation. In a similar vein, historian Edward Larson argues that “as a result of the Scopes trial . . . fundamentalists responded by withdrawing. They did not abandon their faith, however, but set about constructing a separate subculture with independent religious, educational and social institutions.” William Jennings Brian, the leader of the fundamentalist crusade against evolution, died only a few days after the trial, and almost immediately his near-martyrdom set in motion plans to found a college in his honor. Opening its doors in 1930, Bryan College promoted a separatist and defensive stance among its students, and it continues today to lobby for the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design in American schools. The founding of William Jennings Bryan College and its presence in the contemporary fundamentalist movement represents a tangible institutional legacy of the Scopes evolution trial that remains unexamined.

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