Christina Littlefield is an associate professor with a dual appointment in religion and journalism at Pepperdine University. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism (Religion minor) and an MA in Religion from Pepperdine, as well as a PhD in Divinity (Church History) from University of Cambridge. As a journalist, Littlefield primarily covered higher education and religion for the Las Vegas Sun. She recently was appointed Web Editor of AJHA.
When and how did you first become involved with AJHA?
I first started following AJHA in 2014. I got to attend my first conference in 2017, and I immediately loved the community I met in Little Rock that year.
How would you describe the intersections between journalism and religion?
They are best connected in the First Amendment, where freedom of the press and freedom of religion are enshrined together. I first started studying religion as an undergraduate with the goal of covering it as a journalist. If I hadn't been sucked into academia that is what I would love to be doing today. Religious belief or world views inform all aspects of culture, including media and politics, and I believe better understanding the how of that helps us understand so much else in our world today. I also think we cannot fully tell the stories of our communities if we do not cover how their worldview, be that religious or secular, frames their lives. I believe we need at least one religion reporter at every news organization. How does your historical knowledge inform your teaching of journalism classes?
Funny, all of the history classes I teach are in the Religion and Philosophy Division or American Studies graduate program. In my introductory newswriting class, students receive a brief overview, but in my upper division investigative reporting class, we dive deep into the history and read Jon Marshall's brilliant "Watergate Legacy and the Press." But as we discuss news coverage in all classes, I am often helping students contextualize what is happening now with historical tidbits. In 2017 you received the Rising Scholar Award to fund research on social gospel muckrakers. What can you tell us about that research?
I am slowly working toward a book on this topic, but I've presented on about half the thinkers, have an article in American Journalism on Josiah Strong, and have a book chapter published on Walter Rauschenbusch in a centennial celebration, In the Shadow of a Prophet: The Legacy of Walter Rauschenbusch, edited by William Brackney and David Gushee (Mercer University Press). That work has taken a back burner to some more pressing research into Christian nationalism today.
Can you elaborate on your Christian nationalism work?
Much of my religion research has focused on a sociological concept called civil religion, which looks at how sacred and secular ideas come together to form the beliefs of the nation, shaping who citizens are and who they want to be. In the United States, civil religion is particularly pronounced and a common myth centers on ideas of American chosenness or exceptionalism. My first book, Chosen Nations, looked at how the British and American social gospel leaders promoted their nations as ushering in the kingdom of God in very nationalistic ways. (That's where I first saw how they were all using journalism to promote reform work.) Their brand of Christian nationalism was very en vogue during the Progressive Era. Today, we're seeing a new, more radicalized Christian nationalism under former President Donald Trump. This exploded into violence in the Jan. 6 insurrection. I am currently updating a book of my mentor, Richard Hughes, called Christian America and the Kingdom of God. It explores the history of Christian nationalism and myths of a Christian America against what the Bible actually says about the Kingdom of God. I am updating this 2009 book to bring it up to date with present scholarship but also working to enrich its critique to show how pervasive Christian nationalism is among even moderate and progressive thinkers historically.
What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of academia?
There's time for hobbies and interests outside of academia? My favorite part of my job, and the most time consuming, is advising the Pepperdine student magazine, Currents. So that's a chief interest of mine. Truly outside of academia, my husband and I love to hike through the Santa Monica Mountains, and we watch way too much Marvel/DC shows and movies.