Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism

Jonathan Walton’s new book, Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism, is a much-needed contribution to African American religious scholarship. I suspect many on “the left” will be surprised and “the right” more nuanced for having engaged Walton’s research and analysis. Way to go, Dr. Walton for this courageous undertaking!

Here's an interview with Dr. Walton about his book:
What inspired you to write Watch This?

My interest in African American religious broadcasting came from what I perceived to be the gaps in the fields of African American religion and Religion, Media, and Culture. For the most part, scholars of African American religion in general and black theology in particular theorize about Afro-Protestantism in America according to a particular historiography that privileges liberal Protestantism in general, and civil rights motifs in particular. But the prevailing narrative of the freedom-fighting “black church” is in many ways inconsistent with a number of African American Christians whose view of the faith is informed by Trinity Broadcasting, the Word Network, and Streaming Just the same, for sociologists and communication theorists who have examined the world of evangelical religious broadcasting, it is predominantly framed as the domain of the white, religious right.

This book, then, is my attempt to illumine, unpack, and interrogate the theological and social orientations of prominent black religious broadcasters in order to understand them as a source of attraction and ethically evaluate their dominant messages.

What’s the most important take-home message for readers?

The world of religious broadcasting cannot be reduced to an arena of hucksters and snake-oil salesmen. Nor should we reduce viewers and participants to passive, uncritical spectators; folks are not mere “suckers” trapped in a cage of Marxian false-consciousness. Black religious broadcasters convey a message of self-love, self-determination and personal transformation that many find empowering. This is not to suggest that deceit and manipulation are not part of the game. The huckster image is not completely unfounded. But we cannot deny the moral agency or critical posture of participants who turn on the television, purchase a DVD, or attend these megachurches who bring possess their own spiritual aims, interests and concerns. While researching this book I came to discover that many persons are able to “eat the fish, yet spit out the bones.”
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