Charts, Indexes, and Files: Surveillance, Information Management, and the Visualization of Subversion in Mainline Protestantism

Michael J. McVicar
2020 Religion and American culture  
This essay explores how some Americans came to view the Federal Council of Churches (FCC) and, more broadly, ecumenical mainline Protestantism as a threat to the national security interests of the United States. By focusing on the efforts of various elements in the federal bureaucracy—including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Chemical Warfare Service, and Military Intelligence—and the work of average Americans to investigate the FCC, the essay examines how techniques of surveillance
more » ... information management helped shape the way Americans came to understand religion in the twentieth century. The essay develops three interconnected themes: first, the rise of America's national security surveillance establishment in the United States after World War I; second, the development of new methods of information management and visualization in corporate and state bureaucracies; and, third, the rise of voluntary, private surveillance in the wake of World War I. Through these three themes, the essay highlights how a network of federal bureaucrats, business leaders, and average citizens used graphs, indexes, and files to interpret mainline, ecumenical Christianity as a threat to domestic security in the United States. Ultimately, the project suggests that scholarly efforts to assess fissures in U.S. Protestantism have focused too much on controversies over belief and theology—especially those related to evolutionary theory, eschatology, and scriptural inerrancy—and paid far too little attention to the emerging bureaucratic systems of state and corporate surveillance that helped to document, visualize, and disseminate these accusations in the first place.
doi:10.1017/rac.2020.13 fatcat:deewtc7gibhpzoqcz2lglsfunm