God's Faith-Healing Entrepreneur: Oral Roberts, Charismatic Christianity, and the Rise of the Sunbelt South, 1945-1990




Young, Benjamin

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This thesis tracks the development of Oral Roberts’s ministry into an evangelical empire, beginning with his move from rural Oklahoma to Tulsa in 1947 and concluding with the collapse of his City of Faith Medical and Research Center in 1989. It will explore how Roberts burst on to the American religious scene in 1947 boasting a businesslike acumen and a distinctive brand of Pentecostal spirituality. It will chronicle the rise of Roberts’s faith-healing ministry during the 1950s and his theological debt to classical, primitivist Pentecostalism. This thesis will also examine the connections between Roberts’s theology and preexisting traditions of New Thought. With the founding of Oral Roberts University in 1962, Roberts pivoted from barnstorming revivalist to suave televangelist and embraced the affluent Sunbelt ethos of the 1960s and 1970s, a shift in style that fueled his rise to the heights of religious celebrity in the United States. Finally, Roberts’s efforts to build and sustain the City of Faith Medical and Research Center will be related with an attentiveness to how his increasingly erratic series of visions undermined his public credibility and triggered the collapse of his ministry. Ultimately, this thesis argues that Oral Roberts entrepreneurially built one of the most influential evangelical ministries of the twentieth century by presenting an evangelical message heavily indebted to his primitivist Pentecostal roots, adapted to wider audiences through the prism of New Thought, and primed for the nouveau riche lifestyle of the emerging suburban South.