Religion and espionage in World War II discussed by WSU Humanities Fellow Matt Sutton Oct. 27

PULLMAN, Wash.—Washington State University history professor Matt Sutton will discuss “FDR’s Army of Faith: Religion and American Espionage in World War II” at 5:30 p.m. Tues., Oct. 27, in Goertzen 21 (GCAD 21), followed by a reception. The public is welcome at no charge.

Co-hosts of the event are the WSU Humanities Fellow Lecture Series and the Honors College Distinguished Lecture Series.

Sutton is one of three Humanities Fellows for 2015-16 selected by the Humanities Planning Group and based on submitted research proposals.

“U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt drafted 10 million men to serve in World War II, and he drafted God, or at least some of God’s most valuable earthly agents,” said Sutton. “During the war the U.S. government employed a small but influential group of missionaries and religious activists in espionage and covert operations. Their stories have not been told. Until now.”

Archival evidence

At the time, U.S. Office of Strategic Services director William “Wild Bill” Donovan secretly recruited an army of religious activists for intelligence analysis, espionage work, and covert operations. Donovan’s tactics, supported by the president, helped to create the modern American security state and shape the future of the nation’s intelligence and clandestine network, Sutton said.

“He and FDR, in their explicit use of religion and religious activists, laid the foundations for the rise of the CIA, the Cold War-era crusade against ‘godless communism,’ and, more recently, George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror.’”

In telling the story, Sutton will draw on rare archival materials that reveal the significant roles the missionaries played. They include a German priest who longed to be a secret agent, a future CIA director who aggressively recruited religious activists for covert operations, and a fundamentalist Christian missionary-turned-spy.

Sutton as teacher, author, scholar

Sutton is an Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor in Liberal Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences, and teaches 20th century U.S. history, cultural history, and religious history. He is the award-winning author of several books; a book tentatively titled the same as the lecture will be published in 2019. His first book, “Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America,” was the basis for the Public Broadcasting Service documentary “Sister Aimee,” part of the American Experience series.

On a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant, Sutton spent the 2012-13 academic year in Ireland at the University College of Dublin as the Mary Ball Washington Professor of American History. He spent the 2014-15 academic year at Heidelberg University in Germany as the Marsilius Kolleg Visiting Professor and Scholar-in-Residence at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies. With a Ph.D. in history from the University of California-Santa Barbara, Sutton joined the WSU faculty in 2008.

Humanities Fellows open applications

The Humanities Planning Group proposes a Center for the Humanities at WSU to make the humanities accessible to all and to underscore their integral nature to the intellectual life and society, in general. Humanities Fellows are granted on an annual basis, with each winner receiving a $12,500 grant to promote further research and encourage pursuit of greater, external funding for humanities research. The Humanities Fellows program was launched in 2014.

The deadline for applications for 2017-18 Humanities Fellows is Nov. 13.  For more information, visit the webpage at .

MEDIA: Debbie Brudie, Manager, Humanities Planning Group, WSU College of Arts and Sciences, 509-335-0698,