Kim’s New Book Offers Transpacific Take on Modern Evangelicalism

May 5, 2022

Race for Revival by Helen Jin KimAssistant Professor of American Religious History Helen Jin Kim has published a new book with Oxford University Press. Race for Revival: How Cold War Korea Shaped the American Evangelical Empire reexamines the narrative of modern evangelicalism through an innovative transpacific framework, offering a new vantage point for understanding evangelical history from the Korean War to the rise of Ronald Reagan.

The book traces the somewhat symbiotic, somewhat competitive relationship between South Korea and the U.S. and how that relationship empowered a new brand of American evangelicalism—one that foreshadowed the rise of the Christian Right in the 1980s and ’90s. It is the first book to interpret the history of modern evangelical America from a transpacific perspective, using both English and Korean language sources including archival materials and oral histories.

During the Korean War—the first “hot” war of the Cold War era—a new generation of white fundamentalists and neo-evangelicals forged networks with South Koreans that helped turn evangelical America into an empire. South Korean Protestants were used to bolster the image of the U.S. as a non-imperial beacon of democratic hope, despite ongoing racial inequalities. At the same time, South Koreans used these racialized transpacific networks for their own purposes, seeking to reimagine their own place in the world order. They envisioned Korea as the “new emerging Christian kingdom,” that would beat the American evangelical empire in a race for revival.

Among the book’s editorial reviewers is Candler former dean, Emory president emeritus, and former ambassador to South Korea James T. Laney, who offered this endorsement: “Helen Jin Kim’s fine book shows how dogmatic certainty invites an unholy alliance with authoritarian
power. This trenchant review of recent transpacific history provides timely warning of how easily evangelicalism becomes a handmaiden to populism.”