Immigration is one of the major hot-button issues in America today, but many people forget that this has been an important issue throughout the past century. Before politicians were debating the border with Mexico, the U.S. was passing legislation to limit the number of immigrants from Europe.

To further the understanding of the relationship between American evangelists and Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, the Eberly College of Arts & Sciences at West Virginia University and the Religious Studies Program will sponsor a lecture by David Evans on Thursday, Sept. 23.

The lecture is titled “To Redeem the Italian Race: The Evangelical Mission to Americanize Italian Immigrants in the Early 20th Century” and will take place at 7 p.m. in 117 Oglebay Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

“Debates about American immigration would be enriched by reading our present-day immigration issues through the lenses of race and religion,” Evans said.

In his lecture, Evans will discuss the connection between racial and religious ideas and problems with the attempts to categorize everyone into only two categories. Everyone in the U.S. is not only black or white, he says. However, it was the mission of evangelists in the 1920s to make Italian immigrants fit society’s standard mold.

“Whether Italian immigrants were white before they came to America or had to be transformed by some social process has been a cause for debate,” says Evans. “By establishing the Italian Mission to Americanize Italian immigrants in early 20th-century America, the Methodist Episcopal Church sought to silence all arguments.”

David Evans is currently pursuing his doctoral degree in historical studies at Drew University. He also holds an M.T.S. in the history of Christianity from Wesley Theological Seminary and a B.A. in Christian ministries from Spring Arbor University. During his time as a teaching assistant and adjunct professor, he has taught the history of religion in both undergraduate and graduate courses. He also serves as director of a youth ministry.

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