I attended PhD candidate Sean Sagan’s colloquium event today, titled “Only a Tract”. His seminar covered gospel tracts, and various subjects surrounding them, such as their ways of manifestation and the “Great Commission”. A gospel tract is, in essence, religious advertising. It is a visual substance – usually a handout, sticker, pamphlet, or fake currency – that has the intention of “planting the seed” of the evangelical gospel within the observer. They can be found virtually anywhere, even on a urinal in a public bathroom – because salvation can happen at any time, anywhere.
Tract evangelism and Emile Durkheim’s idea that religion and community are interwoven together somewhat go hand in hand. Sagan shared with the audience that “Tract evangelism is more for the missionary, than the recipient”. This is due to the fact that the disbursement of gospel tracts aids in the building cultural identity borders. In the book of Matthew in the New Testament, there is talk of the “Great Commission”, in which Jesus told his disciples to go forth and spread the word of God everywhere. By combining the “Great Commission” and Durkheim’s thoughts on religion and social cohesion, we are left with these evangelical gospel tracts. The unfettered spread of the gospel through tracts not only defines the community passing them out, but openly invites outsiders in – like a public Jesus party.