Melani McAlister

headshot of professor melani mcalister

Melani McAlister

Professor of American Studies and International Affairs


Office Phone: (202) 994-8765
2108 G St. NW

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 has recently published The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals with Oxford University Press. She is also 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 is currently co-editing volume 4 of the Cambridge History of America and the World (forthcoming) with David Engerman and Max Friedman. McAlister is currently working on a project that explores the circulation of Third World music and literature in the US in the 1970s and 1980s, tentatively titled: "The Art of Solidarity: The US Market for Third World Culture in the Late Cold War."

McAlister has published in a broad range of academic journals, including the Journal of American History, Diplomatic History, American Literary History, American Quarterly, and South Atlantic Quarterly. She has also written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic, 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 Studies from Brown University and her BA in International Affairs from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. In addition to the NEH Fellowship, she has been a Fellow at 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 is on the Board of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and is deeply involved with the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, currently serving on the Ways and Means Committee and chairing the Development Committee. She is a member of the editorial boards of Modern American History, Diplomatic History, and American Quarterly.  She has also served on the International Advisory Board of the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut, as a member of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association, and on the boards of the Journal of American History, Diplomatic History, and American Literature. 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.


US in a global context/transnational US history; US media and cultural history; evangelical Christianity; religion and politics

McAlister has begun working on a book that examines the cultural and affective history of humanitarianism in the Cold War, exploring the role of culture and media in shaping the various ways that Americans understood certain crises in the global South to be “humanitarian” crises. She is particularly interested in how the circulation of movies, art, and literature from what was then called the Third World came to affect Americans’ understandings of the politics of international affairs. Her first chapter explores the US and UK responses to the Nigeria-Biafra war of the late 1960s.

In addition to work on the Cambridge History of America and the World, she is also in the process of co-editing a book on American evangelicals in the world, working with Axel Schäfer at the University of Mainz, Germany, and John Corrigan at Florida State University.

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 and undergraduate courses on the US in the World, US media and popular culture studies, the cultures of transnational encounter, and religion and media, among others.


AMST 6210: US in a Global Context

AMST 6190: Religion and Media

AMST 6190:  US Media and Popular Culture


AMST 2320: US Media and Cultural History

AMST 2490: US-Middle East Cultural Encounters

AMST 2710: US in a Global Context

AMST 3900: Critiquing Culture


Forthcoming 2020: Cambridge History of America and the World, Volume 4. Co-edited with David Engerman and Max Friedman.

The Kingdom of God has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals, Oxford University Press, 2018.

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.

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. 

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 special issue (Fall 2017).

“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:

“Seeking Stranger Things,” part of the series “Is this All there Is?” Immanent Frame blog, Social Science Research Council,

“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.

PhD, Brown U., 1996

BA, UNC-Chapel Hill, 1984