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.

An image of Lesie Dorrough Smith with her fists together1. 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”

“New Books on the Edge” with Leslie Dorrough Smith

the cover of Righteous Rhetoric by Leslie DorroughRighteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America 

What sparked your initial interest in exploring what drives the “political power” of the New Christian Right (NCR) and Concerned Women for America (CWA)? How are such groups commonly approached and analyzed in scholarly discourse and the larger public imagination?

As with many scholars, I suppose, my interest in politically active conservative Christianity (a.k.a, the NCR) is at least somewhat autobiographical. I grew up in a social environment steeped in conservative evangelicalism, and so the claims made by these groups – namely, the valorization of the entire spectrum of conservative politics, including a religiously-rooted patriotism, traditional gender roles, and the superiority of the heterosexual, nuclear family – were not new to me.  In a very direct sense, then, my interest in these groups began when, as an undergraduate religious studies major, I was seeking to better understand the appeal of conservative evangelical ideas and their political impact. Continue reading ““New Books on the Edge” with Leslie Dorrough Smith”