“The Power of Subtle Arrangements and Little Things”

This semester I’m teaching a course on Religion & Gender, and one of the books I use is Julie Ingersoll’s Evangelical Christian Women.  Ingersoll wrote the book in part as a response to the scholars who have argued that some evangelical Christian women claim to feel “empowered” by complementarianism and the separate spheres discourse (i.e., the discourse that separates out public from private life and relegates men to the former and women to the latter). Ingersoll allows that that might be true for some women in evangelical communities, but that other evangelical women report finding evangelical gender ideology oppressive and discriminatory — and she supports the claim with ample evidence gathered through interviews with evangelical women.

One of the claims of the book is that the contestation of gender is central to evangelicalism, or what we might call the evangelical habitus. That’s why, according to Ingersoll, that debates over whether women can be ministers, leaders, or teachers, as well as the debate over gay rights, generate so much heat within the evangelical subculture. Continue reading ““The Power of Subtle Arrangements and Little Things””

On the Spot with Leslie Dorrough Smith

“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.

1. When people ask what you study, what do you tell them?

I tell them that I study religious people. I say this instead of “religion” because I want to emphasize that there is no religion without people behind the enterprise. That may seem a truism, to some, but since our field still engages so readily with talking about all sorts of disembodied religious traditions — i.e., differentiating between “Christianity” and the “Christians” who practice it — I think this is a really important distinction that places the emphasis back on human behavior. This explanation also helps with the task of clarifying that I’m not involved in some sort of ministry or theological pursuit, which is a presumption that most of us get when asked this question.

2. How do questions of identity manifest in your research?

My research up to this point in time has dealt largely with how various American conservative Christian entities re-negotiate their identities within a religious framework in order to secure certain social outcomes. More specifically, I’ve been looking at how evangelicals use religious ideas for particular ends within the American political system. I think the most important takeaway from this research has been that the identities and other types of portrayals that evangelicals make for themselves and others shift substantially as the political winds dictate, all while claiming no such shifting at all (in the name of eternality or god’s will). Instead of calling this hypocrisy or some sort of failure to live out “authentic values,” as is often the rhetoric from those on the left, I just see this as the normal mechanics of a social group. Everyone does it, in other words, because social groups are always looking to secure their own legitimacy, and when the social conditions change dramatically, so will, at times, their own identities. Continue reading “On the Spot with Leslie Dorrough Smith”

Effective Outrage

A whirlwind of political actions and responses has overwhelmed many of us over the past few months in the United States. Almost everyone seems to be outraged about something. Some are outraged at Trump’s attempt to ban people from entering the US, his cabinet and staff selections, and various other statements and actions he has made, while others express outrage at the responses to Trump, from filing lawsuits to protesting physically. What does all of the outrage accomplish, besides exhausting everyone involved?

Expressions of outrage often contribute to the construction of groups. When Bill Maher, to much applause from his audience, thanked Trump in November because Trump “exposed evangelicals, who are big Trump supporters, as the shameless hypocrites they’ve always been” (see clip below), Maher’s assertion of outrage identified evangelicals as the opposition to those who, like Maher, opposed Trump. By associating two issues, the outrage encouraged people who agreed with Maher’s politics to join his opposition to groups whom he identifies as religious. A similar correlation can be found in statements critiquing the marches and protests following Trump’s inauguration. People have expressed outrage that the signs and speeches were vulgar and hateful. For example, the Federalist website highlighted elements of the Women’s March that it deemed problematic, even warning that their description included “vulgar and sexually graphic content.” These expressions attempt to combine people uncomfortable with public discussions of sexuality with Trump supporters. Thus, expressions of outrage used emotional responses to unite people with some similar positions against a caricatured Other. Continue reading “Effective Outrage”

You Are What You Read, with Leslie Dorrough Smith (Part 4)

For a new Culture on the Edge series “You Are What You Read” we’re asking each member to answer a series of questions about books — either academic or non-academic — that have been important or influential on us.

4. Name a book that could serve as the perfect foil for your current research project (e.g., an example of a scholarly trend you’re working against).

Between Jesus and the Market

When I think about a trend in scholarship that I’m working against, I (ironically) consider one of the first volumes that shifted my academic path towards the study of rhetoric, and which remains one of the most influential volumes to my present focus today.  Previously in this series I mentioned the pivotal role that Roland Barthes’ Mythologies played early on in my thinking, but in terms of influence, I could just as easily have mentioned Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions That Matter in Right-Wing America, by Linda Kintz.

Kintz’s work earns a paradoxical place in my mind for the same reason that I feel so conflicted about much of the scholarship on evangelicalism and fundamentalism out today: although often historically incisive and analytically helpful, Kintz writes with a clear agenda to politically defeat her subjects. What strikes me as odd about this position is that almost all scholars who do this contextualize their own political positions as somehow fundamentally different from those that they critique. This, to me, is worth mention because believing that one is fundamentally different from those that they study often proves to be an analytically questionable position. Continue reading “You Are What You Read, with Leslie Dorrough Smith (Part 4)”