The Evangelist and the Impresario: Religion, Entertainment and Cultural Politics in America, 1884-1914

What is culture and who has the authority to define it? If culture is composed of shared hierarchies, who determines what their standards should be, and how? What are the stakes involved in conceiving some forms of culture as good and others as bad? These may sound like questions from late-20th-century American culture wars, but they were already in vigorous dispute a century earlier. This work is an exploration of the intersection of religion, vaudeville and class in the era of the new immigrant, focusing on the careers of two seemingly different, yet interestingly similar, characters - Irish-born socialist Alexander Irvine and Italian-American entertainment mogul, Sylvester Poli. Using these two tour guides , who established varied and far-flung connections within the arenas of religion, popular culture and class politics, Oberdeck leads readers through a period of evangelical upheaval in America's intellectual history when religion and entertainment combined to produce meaningful cultural debate. The main narrative follows Irvine, Protestant minister, labour activist, socialist, and popular author who eventually did a stint on the vaudeville stage, and Poli, who used his skills as a wax sculptor to establish himself as a theatrical entrepreneur with a circuit of vaudeville houses. Oberdeck traces cultural trajectories, mapping influences and alliances that shaped the careers of men whose contributions to public sphere helped to transform the intellectual arguments taking place there. Since both men sought to attract, increase, persuade and conjure their audiences, the author writes, their messages invite us to consider and explain the success of various class, gender and ethnic appeals.