Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Professor’s book subject of PBS documentary
By Rebecca Wyatt Thomas, OU Web Writer
When Assistant Professor of History Matthew Sutton began exploring Aimee Semple McPherson as the topic of his graduate dissertation, he didn’t think his work would garner so much attention. The dissertation has been made into a book and PBS is airing a documentary on McPherson on Monday, April 2 at 9 p.m. Sutton was instrumental in creating that documentary.
McPherson was born in 1890 and died in 1944. Commonly known as Sister Aimee, McPherson was an evangelist who founded the Foursquare Church after a near-death experience.
The documentary and the book have drawn a lot of attention. Sutton is a subject of a number of local news articles, including one that will run in The Detroit Free Press, and will be interviewed on National Public Radio on Monday, April 2, before the documentary airs. The attention is something Sutton never expected.
Growing up in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Sutton was interested in McPherson’s work early on.
“I got away from it in college and evolved in my religious and political views, but I grew more interested in the work of McPherson as I worked through graduate school,” Sutton said. “I thought Aimee Semple McPherson would provide a great topic for a dissertation.”
Sutton completed his dissertation in 2005 and received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara before coming to OU in the fall of 2005. In addition to teaching, Sutton spent the last two years revising his work to be published into the book, “Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America,” which was released by Harvard University Press this week.
Through the book, Sutton compares McPherson to a celebrity, religious activist and politician.
Sutton said PBS contacted him after learning from another religious historian that he was working on a book about McPherson.
“The documentary was a lot of work. I suggested other scholars that they could talk to. I helped find sources. I had to read the script to make sure there were not factual errors, and I served as one of the ‘talking heads,’” Sutton said. Many of Sutton’s research items were used in the film.
Sutton is able to use much of his research in his religious history class and also through other outlets like the History Comes Alive Lecture Series sponsored each year by the Department of History.
On Thursday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Oakland Center Lake Superior Room A, Sutton will screen the documentary and discuss it with the OU community during a special lecture sponsored by Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society.
For more information on the local PBS channels check with your cable provider or visit the PBS Web site. The documentary, “Sister Aimee,” will air Monday, April 2 at 9 p.m. For more information on OU’s history programs, visit the Department of History Web site.