Skip to main content

Religion and wealth focus of this year's Marshall Speaker


Portrait of Harvard professor Jonathan Walton
September 20, 2012

Social ethicist and scholar of American religions Jonathan L. Walton has been named this year’s Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Speaker on Religion and Conflict by ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.

As the Marshall Speaker, Walton will deliver a public lecture, titled “Lifestyles of the (Not So) Rich and Religious: Theological Prosperity in an Age of Economic Inequality," at 1:30 p.m., Oct. 4. The lecture is set to take place in West Hall, room 135, on ASU’s Tempe campus, and is free and open to the public.

Walton is the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University, Pusey Minister in Harvard’s Memorial Church, and a professor of religion and society on the faculty of divinity.

He has been named this year’s Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Speaker for his work at the intersection of religion, politics and media culture, particularly his explorations into developments in American Christianity represented by the rise of the “prosperity gospel.”

“Issues regarding wealth, its meaning and purpose, have often been tied to religious assumptions and values," says Linell Cady, director of the Center for the Study of Religion. “But in our current national conversation, the relationship of religion to wealth has all but disappeared from the discussion.”

Religious traditions in the American context, especially Protestantism, Cady notes, have had profound influences on different strands in American political thought about wealth and its relationship to the common good.

“Walton is an ideal speaker to address this topic,” says Cady. “His work looks closely at the role of the media in expanding the influence of the prosperity gospel in American society and raises important questions about its morally ambiguous implications in American life.”

Walton is known as an incredibly dynamic speaker whose work and insights have been featured in national and international news outlets including the New York Times, CNN and the BBC. He is also the “resident ethicist” on the Tavis Smiley radio show.

Walton has published widely in scholarly journals, such as Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation and Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. His book, “Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism” (2009), disrupts commonly held assumptions that associate evangelical broadcasting with white, conservative evangelical communities, documenting the rise, influence and impact of African-American televangelists on American society.

Currently, Walton is working on a book-length study of famed televangelist Carlton Pearson, tentatively titled “Pentecostalism Made Pretty.” The book explores questions of power, privilege and race in the context of late 20th- and early 21st-century neo-Pentecostalism. He is also completing a volume on African-American religious history with Eddie S. Glaude of Princeton University titled “American Religion In Black and Blue.”

Walton earned his doctoral and master of divinity degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary. A native of Atlanta, Walton graduated from Morehouse College with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Before joining the faculty of Harvard University, he was an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of California, Riverside.

The Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Speaker Series on Religion and Conflict is an endowed lecture series that was established within the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict in 2003. The speaker series honors the Marshall’s commitment to the arts, education, civil liberties, and world peace. Past speakers in the series have included such influential academics and writers as Abdullahi An’Naim, Jean Comoroff and Eliza Griswold.

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict is an interdisciplinary research unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that examines the role of religion as a driving force in human affairs. More information at csrc.asu.edu.