Associate Professor of American Studies and International Affairs
|Address:||Elliott School of International Affairs
1957 E St. NW
Areas of Expertise
US in a global context/transnational US history; US media and cultural history; evangelical Christianity; religion and politics
Melani McAlister specializes in the multiple “global visions” produced by and for Americans. In her writing and teaching, she focuses on the ways in which cultural and political history intersect, and on the role of religion and culture in shaping US “interests” in other parts of the world. Her own interests include nationalism and transnationalism; cultural theory; religion and culture; the rhetoric of foreign policy; and cultural and media history (including television, film, print, and digital).
Professor McAlister is the author of Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945 (rev. ed. 2005, orig. 2001), and the co-editor, with R. Marie Griffith, of Religion and Politics in the Contemporary United States (2008). She has recently completed Our God in the World: The Global Visions of American Evangelicals (forthcoming 2017), a study of U.S. Christian evangelicals, popular culture, and international affairs. The book examines the ways in which US evangelicals understood their own international interests, focusing in particular on the Middle East and Africa. McAlister explores US evangelical investments, from their fears of decolonization in the 1960s to activism on international religious freedom in the 1990s to responses to the Iraq war after 2003.
McAlister has published in a broad range of academic journals, including the Journal of American History, American Literary History, American Quarterly, and South Atlantic Quarterly. She has also written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Nation, and has spoken to a broad range of media outlets about US-Middle East relations and US evangelical life and culture, including PBS, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Irish Radio One, and national television stations in Germany, Austria, and Iran.
Professor McAlister received her PhD in American Civilization from Brown University and her BA in International Affairs from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She has been a Fellow at and Princeton’s Davis Center for Historical Studies, a Faculty Fellow at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication, and a Fellow at Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion. She has served on the International Advisory Board of the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut, and as member of the editorial boards of American Quarterly, the Journal of American History, and Diplomatic History. She has lectured at dozens of universities, both nationally and internationally. She has also served as a consultant and lecturer for American Studies programs and institutes in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Palestine.
McAlister has begun working on a book that examines the global response to the Biafra crisis – the events surrounding the civil war in Nigeria from 1967-71. The study is tentatively titled, “’Keep Biafra Alive!’: Religion, Global Media, and Popular Humanitarianism during Nigeria’s Civil War." The book will explore the involvement of both religious and secular NGOs in the US and Europe in crafting a humanitarian response to the war and particularly to the images of starving children that circulated globally. The study examines the international affairs projects of ordinary people, exploring how the humanitarian politics surrounding Biafra emerged in a global context, including the social movements that responded to the Vietnam War and apartheid. The book explores the history of international relations, broadly conceived, by combining media studies, visual culture analysis, social movement history, religious studies, and political history.
She is also co-organizing, with two other GW faculty members, a major international conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Biafra war. It is scheduled for April 2017.
Overall, McAlister's interests center around US cultural and political encounters with global issues, focused primarily on the Middle East and Africa. She teaches graduate courses on the US in the World, US media and popular culture, the cultures of transnational encounter, and religion and media, among others.
PhD, Brown U., 1996
BA, UNC-Chapel Hill, 1984
Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, o. 2001. Revised and expanded edition, 2005.
Religion and Politics in the Contemporary United States. Co-edited with R. Marie Griffith. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2008. Originally a special issue of American Quarterly, 2007.
Manuscript completed: “Our God in the World: The Global Visions of American Evangelicals.” Under contract with Oxford University Press; forthcoming.
Journal Articles and Book Chapters:
“The Triumph and Downfall of ‘Social Concern’ in Global Evangelical Life, 1965-1985.” Journal of American Studies, part of a forthcoming special issue (winter 2017) coordinated by the International Working Group on Global Evangelicalism.
“The Body in Crisis: Congo and the Transformations of Evangelical Internationalism, 1960–65.” Forthcoming in Outside In: Transnational and International Dimensions of Modern American History, Ed. Andrew Preston and Doug Rossinow. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2017.
“Queering Diplomatic History: A Colloquium,” Diplomatic History (winter 2016): 1-62. Co-authored with six other contributors.
“US Evangelicals and the Politics of Slave Redemption as Religious Freedom,” South Atlantic Quarterly, special issue on Religious Freedom, ed. Saba Mahmood and Peter Danchin, forthcoming Oct. 2013.
“The Persecuted Body: Evangelical Internationalism, Islam, and the Politics of Fear.” In Facing Fear: The History of an Emotion in Global Perspective. Ed. Michael Laffan and Max Weiss. Princeton: Princeton University Press, Oct. 2012.
"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: American Missionaries, The Problem of Racism, and Decolonization in the Congo,” OAH Magazine of History, 26 (Sumer 2012), 33-37
“A Virtual Muslim is Something to Be.” American Quarterly (June 2010): 221-231.
“What Would Jesus Do? Evangelicals, the Iraq War, and the Struggle for Position.” In America and Iraq: Policy-making, Intervention and Regional Politics. Ed. David Ryan and Patrick Kiely. New York: Routledge, 2009.
“What is Your Heart For? Affect and Internationalism in the Evangelical Public Sphere.” American Literary History (December 2008): 870-95.
“Is the Public Sphere Still Naked?” with Marie Griffith. American Quarterly (Sept. 2008): 527-563.
“Rethinking the ‘Clash of Civilizations’: American Evangelicals, the Bush Administration, and the Winding Road to the Iraq War.” In Race, Nation, and Empire in U.S. History. Ed. Matthew Guterl and James Campbell. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2007.
“American Feminists, Global Visions, and the Problem of Female Genital Surgeries.” In Americanism: New Perspectives on The History of an Ideal. Ed. Michael Kazin and Joe McCartin. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006.
“Prophecy, Politics, and The Popular: The Left Behind Series and Christian Fundamentalism’s New World Order.” South Atlantic Quarterly (Fall 2003): 773-798.
Reprinted in Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of and Popular Culture. Eds. Rebecca Stein, and Ted Swendenburg. Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2005.
Revised version: “Left Behind and the Politics of Prophecy Talk.” In Exceptional State: Contemporary U.S. Culture and the New Imperialism. Eds. Ashley Dawon and Malini J. Schueller. Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2007.
“A Cultural History of the War Without End,” special issue Journal of American History (Sept. 2002): 439-456. This issue published as a book: September 11 and History. Ed. Joanne Meyerowitz. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 2003.
Reprinted in Hollywood and War: A Film Reader. Ed. David Slocum. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Reprinted in U.S.-Middle East Historical Encounters: A Critical Survey. Ed. Abbas Amanat and Magnus Bernhardsson. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007.
"One Black Allah: The Middle East in African American Cultural Politics, 1955-1967," American Quarterly (September 1999), 622-655.
Reprinted in Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History. Ed. Antoinette Burton and Tony Ballantyne. Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2004.
Revised version in Faith in the Market: Religion, Urban Identities, and Consumer Culture. Ed John Giggie and Diane Winston. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 2002.
"'The Common Heritage of Mankind': Negotiating Race, Nation, and Masculinity in the King Tut Exhibit." Representations 54 (Spring 1996), 80-103.
General Interest publications:
“Maryland Bills Would Stifle Academic Freedom,” Baltimore Sun, February 12, 2014.
“Roundtable: Engaging Religion at the Department of State.” The Immanent Frame, blog of the Social Science Research Council, July 2013.
“Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: American Missionaries, The Problem of Racism, and Decolonization in the Congo.” OAH Magazine of History, 26 (Sumer 2012), 33-37.
Invited Contributor to “Frequencies, Genealogies of Spirituality.” Sponsored by the Social Science Research Council. Entry on B.K.S. Iyengar. Oct. 13, 2011.
Republished in “On Being,” blog of the public radio show hosted by Krista Tippett. April 2015.
“The Persecuted Body: American Evangelicals, Islam and Religious Suffering.” Middle East Report. December 2008.
Libertas Blog. Review of Brian De Palma’s Redacted. December 2007.
“An Empire of Their Own.” The Nation. September 22, 2003.
Reprinted in Good Weekend Magazine, supplement to Australia’s two largest newspapers.
“Saving Private Lynch.” New York Times op-ed page. April 6, 2003.
"Armageddon on the Bestseller List." Washington Post, Outlook section. February 2, 2003.
“Television, Terrorism, and the Making of Incomprehension.” The Chronicle of Higher Education Review. December 7, 2001.