2015 J.J. Thiessen Lecture Series (video)

2015 J.J Thiessen Lecture Series
Crude Awakenings: The Faith, Politics, and Crises of Oil in American’s Century

In late October 2015 Dr. Darren Dochuk, Associate Professor in the Department of History at University of Notre Dame, spoke as guest lecturer in the 2015 instalment of the longstanding J.J. Thiessen Lecture Series. 

Each of Dr. Dochuk’s three lectures focuses on a particularly momentous flashpoint in the life of North American oil and evangelicalism and pauses for reflection on what this moment meant long-term for matters of faith and society. In the process of tracking the chronology of God and black gold in the modern era, Dr. Dochuk also raises questions and curiosities pertaining to evangelicalism’s relationship to capitalism and globalization, energy and environment, notions of time and broad interests in politics.

Lecture One – Blood of the Earth: Evangelicalism’s First Encounters with Black Gold

This lecture explores the earliest rumblings of oil in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and follow the journeys of some of petroleum’s first wildcatters—those who chased subsurface wealth from western Pennsylvania to Texas and Southern California, Southern Ontario to Russia and Indonesia. Drawing on the illustrative life stories of oil titans like Lyman Stewart and Lady Dundonald and diaries of oil drillers who left their farms in Ontario to travel to oil patches around the world, Dr. Dochuk explores the relationship of evangelical Protestantism to processes of resource extraction and economic progress, modern technologies, and mechanisms of a new capitalism. With special focus on Lyman Stewart, it Dr. Dochuck also considers the effects of these dynamics on the “fight for the fundamentals,” struggles between competing theologies and economic outlooks, and theologically informed corporate leaders, that ruptured Protestantism and petroleum in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Lecture Two – Carbon Democracies: World Wars and the Rise of Wildcat Christianity

This lecture  charts the rise of the North American West’s independent oil companies and the philosophy of wildcat Christianity, which gained traction amid the crises of the Depression, World War II, and early Cold War. Its purview is wide, and offer a glimpse at the range of ambitions that shaped large oil companies (those with Rockefeller connections, for instance) as they expanded into the Middle East, South America, and other oil zones of the world. Henry Luce’s charge for American oilmen to take the lead in spreading Christian democracy was but one manifestation of this confidence. But the lecture  focuses particularly on the coalescence of evangelical-minded citizens, church leaders, and politicians such as evangelist Billy Graham and Alberta Premier Ernest Manning, all of whom occupied the oil-rich areas of Alberta and the American Southwest, and grew close in their transnational understanding of region and environment, imperatives for evangelization and urgencies of time, and quest to advance their own sense of Christian democracy before their dispensation of abundance expired.

Lecture Three – Power Shifts: Fuel and Family Values in the Age of Evangelicalism

Moving through the heart of the 1960s and 1970s, with some conclusions in our current moment, this lecture tracks the final steps that oil patch evangelicals followed to gain political power. Tapping the behind-the-scenes activities of men like Ernest Manning, Billy Graham, and J. Howard Pew, whose work helped bring to fruition such momentous petroleum ventures as the Great Canadian Oil Sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta, it reevaluates the “culture wars” of the period as a struggle between competing visions of fuel as well as family values. Much has been written, of course, about the conservative-liberal tensions that sparked these culture wars and led to the Republican Right’s capture of the White House in 1980. In this closing talk, Dr. Dochuk folds issues of energy and environmentalism into the mix, measures evangelicalism’s abiding connections to the oil sector and their impact on the religious movement’s political success, and revisits the Reagan Revolution as a process long in the making and still much in effect. The lecture concludes with a glimpse at more recent manifestations of evangelicalism’s relationship to crude oil, and the internal and external pressures of a new generation that have begun to undermine it in this new millennium, with America’s Century now past.

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2015 J.J. Thiessen Lectures to explore oil and evangelism in the 20th century

CMU welcomes University of Notre Dame history professor Darren Dochuk

How have religion and oil together shaped existence for modern North Americans at the moment of their heightening authority in the 20th century?

That’s one of the questions Dr. Darren Dochuk will explore at this year’s J.J. Thiessen Lectures at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU). Titled, “Crude Awakenings: The Faith, Politics, and Crises of Oil in America’s Century,” the three-part series takes place in the CMU Chapel (600 Shaftesbury Blvd.) on Tuesday, October 20 at 11:00 AM and 7:30 PM, and Wednesday, October 21 at 11:00 AM.

Dr. Dochuk
Dr. Darren Dochuk from the University of Notre Dame, 2015’s J.J. Thiessen Lecture Series presenter

Dochuk, Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame, will track a history of religion and oil in the 20th century, with a particular focus on “oil patch evangelism,” showing how encounters with petroleum helped shape a certain theology, a certain understanding of land and environment, and ultimately, a certain understanding of politics.

“I’m lecturing and writing very much as a historian, but I would assume that people can see the connections to our present moment,” says Dochuk, who is currently writing a book on the subject, titled Anointed With Oil: God and Black Gold in America’s Century.

“Ongoing battles about pipelines, energy, and the environment… always stir up moral critique, and in some ways, discussion and debate about theology itself—the ways in which people are to connect with, and manage, the Earth and its resources.”

Each of the three lectures will focus on a momentous flashpoint in the life of North American oil and evangelicalism and pause for reflection on what this moment meant long-term for matters of faith and society in the 20th century.

In the process of tracking the chronology of God and black gold in the modern era, the lectures will also raise questions pertaining to evangelicalism’s relationship to capitalism and globalization, energy and environment, notions of time, and broad interests in politics.
Dochuk says that his experience growing up in Edmonton, AB is one of the reasons for his interest in the subject of oil and faith.

“[Growing up,] I kind of knew intuitively that there was… a certain uniqueness to Alberta, and much of that comes out of its experiences with the boom and bust culture of oil, and the way that landscape again encourages certain religious and political practices,” Dochuk says.

“This is a way for me to revisit my own past, and revisit Alberta itself, and see if I can place that in a broader context of historical development.”

Brian Froese, Assistant Professor of History at CMU, suggested the university invite Dochuk to speak after hearing him present at a conference and reading some of his work on the intersection between oil, religion, and politics.

“The papers and articles he’s produced on that so far are wildly interesting,” Froese says, adding that Dochuk is an engaging presenter and empathetic scholar with keen insights.

“He has something provocative, in the best sense of the word, to say,” Froese says. “He really makes you think about something in a particular way.”

More on Dochuk’s lectures can be found at

Founded in 1978 by one of CMU predecessor institutions, Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC), the J.J. Thiessen Lectures are named in honour of a founder and long-time chairperson of the CMBC Board. The lectures seek to bring to the CMU community something of Thiessen’s breadth of vision for the church.

About CMU
A Christian university in the Anabaptist tradition, CMU’s Shaftesbury campus offers undergraduate degrees in arts, business, humanities, music, sciences, and social sciences, as well as graduate degrees in theology, ministry, peacebuilding and collaborative development, and an MBA. CMU has over 800 full-time equivalent students, including those enrolled in degree programs at the Shaftesbury and Menno Simons College campuses and in its Outtatown certificate program. 

For information about CMU visit

For additional information, please contact:
Kevin Kilbrei, Director of Communications & Marketing; 204.487.3300 Ext. 621
Canadian Mennonite University
500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB  R3P 2N2