Oil, Religion, and American Politics

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Amanda Skofstad​​​​​​​ | July 15, 2019

In his newest research, Darren Dochuk, associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, chronicles North America’s age of oil — in particular, crude’s inseparable relationship to Christianity. He finds that since the Civil War-era discovery of oil, Americans have consistently claimed black gold as a spiritual blessing, a sacred burden and an emblem of national identity and mission in the world.


In “Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America,” Dochuk’s comprehensive study of the symbiotic relationship between American religion and oil, he introduces two main characters and their attendant belief systems. The first is major oil’s civil religion of crude, most clearly manifested in the sprawling and centralized business, faith and philanthropy of the Rockefeller family. The second is independent oil’s populist, boom-bust style of “wildcat Christianity,” represented by oil families like the Pews and Hunts and rooted in the Southwest. Dochuk links both to deep divisions in American politics over human ownership of — and responsibility for — earth’s natural resources and the environment.  

According to Dochuk, religion and oil form “the twin pillars of American exceptionalism,” but scholars have largely studied the two topics in isolation. His research delves into the archives of large oil corporations, among many other sources, to reveal strategies for industry dominance that echo particular theological commitments and rhetoric.

“What comes to light are the expansive, joint efforts of oilmen and churchmen to make America in their image,” Dochuk said.

Read more here. 

 by Daily Domer Staff

Posted In: Features