Category Archives: Blogging

White, male and “evangelical”?

Over at Religion in American History, Ed Blum blogs about how the label of “evangelical” presumes whiteness, particularly the 2005 list by Time magazine of prominent evangelicals. The list includes T.D. Jakes and Luis Cortes.  Sans these two ministers “representing” African-American and Latino evangelicalisms (and we all know that evangelicalism is a varied constellation rather than unified movement), the list is overwhelming white.  I would also add that the list is overwhelming male, with four women featured. Out of the four women, two are listed independently ( Joyce Meyer and Diane Knippers) while Beverly LaHaye and Roberta Ahmanson appear alongside their husbands. While it is should already be apparent, I will say it anyway: All of these women are also white.

Blum’s critique, however, is not simply a take-down of Time’s (dated) compilation of important “evangelicals,” but rather he is responding to John Turner’s post reflecting on how this kind of  list might appear differently in 2012. In all fairness, Turner notes the utter lack of Asian Americans on the list, the inclusion of only one evangelical Latino minister and the presence of few women.

Using Turner’s post as a starting point, Ed argues that we should all really pay attention to lack of attention to whiteness in the labeling of evangelical. This inattention appears not only Time‘s list but also in the the field of evangelical studies more largely. His apparent frustration emerges in how evangelical often functions as code for white evangelical. Thus, other people who happen to  evangelical and who are not white get racial modifiers attached to their evangelicalism., which is what happens with both Jakes and Cortes. This seems to imply that if these categories are somehow monolithic. FYI, they are’t.

This post mirrors my own frustrated reaction application of evangelical, as if the term was devoid of racial and gendered classifications. Presumed, or even assumed, whiteness and maleness obscures rather than illuminates the racial diversity of evangelicalism past and present. When will studies of evangelicalism and American religious history take whiteness and maleness into account in a serious manner? (This round table on whiteness in Religion and American Culture is a helpful start.)

To even pose this question leads me to sigh very big sighs while banging my head against the desk.  Here’s a short form version of how I feel about the need to study whiteness:

Why don’t we problematize, or heck, even engage, the bodies attached to these ideologies? I think it deeply matters that white male bodies are ignored in favor of their ideas and their rhetoric. They become soley progenitors of words, somehow absent from the fleshy reality that plagues the rest of us (even though there is attention, not analysis, of physical appearances). Embodiment matters, and I want to know why there is still hesitance to press bodily analysis on certain, dominant religious groups. Griffith does lead the way on this, and I think Martha Finch’s work gets us closer to this kind of analysis. Why aren’t we analyzing white Christian bodies? Is it an assumption of invisibility and dominance? Or is there something more subtle and possibly insidious going on here? (Read more here.)

Here is what Ed writes:

My complaint is … with the entire field of “evangelical” studies. Until it can come up with a definition of itself that explains why books about it are almost uniformly about white people (because last I checked, lots and lots and lots of African Americans have fit Bebbington’s definition), then it needs greater definitional precision. So many American historians bristle at “whiteness” studies, but this is a clear case, to me, where whiteness is hidden in plain site. This is the kind of assumption that leads books about religion and the founders to exclude Phillis Wheatley, to focus on Charles Finney but rarely William Apess, to pine for Lincoln to be evangelical but to ignore Frederick Douglass, and to lionize Dwight Moody and leave out Ida B. Wells. (Emphasis is mine.)

The rest of the post is here, and make sure to check out the comments on Ed’s post too. What are we to make of this avoidance of whiteness? How we make the assumed into the analyzable? What is to be gained if we recognize the racialized and gendered presumptions of a term like evangelical?

Embodying Identity for Bulletin for the Study of Religion

Over at the Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog, I write about my recent pedagogical experiments to conjure race, religion, class and gender by taking embodiment seriously. Here’s an excerpt:

This semester, however, I expanded the exercise to think about embodiment more largely, or how exactly we come to embody socially, historically and culturally crafted identities like gender but also race and class. What can we learn about social norms, cultural preferences or even religious devotion with attention to one body (mine)? How can we learn to interpret the terrain of physical bodies? What are the props, to conjure Erving Goffman, that bolster, and sometimes detract, from not only our “presentations of self” in daily life but also our presentations of social norms and our cultural habits? While Craig invokes Pierre Bourdieu, habitus and deviance in his excellent post on the radical act of painting one’s nails (if a dude, excuse me, a man), I evoke Sean McCloud (who employs Bourdieu on class) and R. Marie Griffith’s lovely discussions of historical and cultural work of bodies inDivine Hierarchies and Born Again Bodies respectively.

For discussions of embodiment, I made myself into the subject of academic inquiry (aren’t we already?), the object of the critical gaze of my students. Gender me, I said to my classes. Race me. Class me. And religion me, which is another post for a different day. The body, I explained encouragingly, is a political, social, cultural and religious map. It is physical, material and biological, but it is also the repository of desire, ideology, need, imagination.  It is an object, and it is an idea. The body is the archive of the physical, the social and the metaphysical. It is the site of me, you and us. What do I, this body, in front of all of you, embody? I ask them beseechingly. 

Continue reading here.

What to pay attention to on your Thursday…

Before I even begin, I should say I know this poor blog has been stagnating. It has caused me great guilt and pain, but a series of not-so-fortunate events (I’ll discuss this in another post) have somewhat blocked my writing and more importantly taken up my time. Thus, I’m back.

So here are some things to pay attention to while I get back in the swing of blogging:

SPLC Chart of Hate Groups, 2010

1. Hate Groups are on the rise (again!) in the U.S. At the Huffington Post, Brian Levin walks us through the new Southern Poverty Law Center data for 2011. Here’s a sample:

The 2011 figures are the eleventh consecutive annual increase and the highest number since the SPLC began enumerating hate group totals in the 1980s. In 2000 there were just 602 of these groups nationally. While 2011 hate crime numbers are not yet tabulated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the agency counted 6,624 hate crimes in 2010 in the United States, an increase of only 26 from a 14 year low recorded the previous year. A 2010 analysis by the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions found that from 1999-2009 white supremacist and anti-government domestic extremist plots were only surpassed by those undertaken by radical Salafist and al-Qaeda followers during the decade. 

The emphasis is all mine, folks. Interestingly enough, the number of Ku Klux Klan organizations declined while paramilitary and militia groups rose significantly. I want to look at the numbers myself, and I’ll blog about what this means for historians and religious studies scholars a bit later.

2. Historiann weighs in on Rush Limbaugh’s use of “slut” at a private citizen by suggesting he might be a dumba$$. I couldn’t agree more. (On a side note, if you are wondering how to define this term, Mother Jones provides a flowchart with kittens.)

3. At Time, Jessica Winter queries: “Are women people?” This provocative question is her entry point into the increasingly hostile debates over contraception, transvaginal ultrasounds, pregnancy and legislation surrounding all of this. Winter writes:

You see, like most women, I was born with the chromosome abnormality known as “XX,” a deviation of the normative “XY” pattern. Symptoms of XX, which affects slightly more than half of the American population, include breasts, ovaries, a uterus, a menstrual cycle, and the potential to bear and nurse children. Now, many would argue even today that the lack of a Y chromosome should not affect my ability to make informed choices about what health care options and lunchtime cat videos are right for me. But others have posited, with increasing volume and intensity, that XX is a disability, even a roadblock on the evolutionary highway. This debate has reached critical mass, and leaves me uncertain of my legal and moral status. Am I a person? An object? A ward of the state? A “prostitute”? (And if I’m the last of these, where do I drop off my W-2?)

4. Check out John Turner’s review of John Modern’s Secularism in Nineteenth Century America at Religion in American History.  Turner writes:

Modern has written an extended critique of Common Sense philosophy and historians who have embraced it in their analysis of the history of religion in the United States (chapter one contains an extended engagement with Mark Noll). Modern “contends that human agency was an remains an open question … For those living within a secular imaginary, decision about religion were often one’s own, yet the range of available choices had been patterned and shaped by circumstance. Institutions making their invisible demands. Media generating models of particular choices. Machines enabling you to interact with your decisions and those of others. A choice being made before it presents itself as such. Unseen somethings haunting the day.” Toward the end of his book, Modern uses Foucault’s “notion of subjectivization” “to call into question a dominant paradigm of American religious historiography that continues to operate according to the same epistemological and political principles that gave rise to the discipline in the mid-nineteenth century.”

Back in Black (or my long overdue blog manifesto)

I'm back! I'm back! But not in black!

As noted in a previous post, my semester (4 classes, job applications, student advisor-ing, conferencing, public talks, etc.) gobbled up all of my time (and I didn’t even post all the other things that require keeping a small human, some pets and a beleaguered partner alive). In other words, I have been BUSY! My semester is now wrapping up, and my grading is somewhat under control. Delayed writing beckons and pleads with me to just finish up. All of this means that I will be back to blogging as of NOW.

To tell you the truth, dear reader (there is at least one of you, right?), I miss blogging. Deeply. I crave this form of writing. During the semester, I would long for the time, the opportunity, to blog. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, since I have blogged at Religion in American History since 2007. Heck, I even self-identify as a blogger in a variety of venues.

The reason might surprise, though. I don’t blog because the internet needs my opinion on American religious history, gender, race, class or religion in all kinds of formats. I am definitely not seeking fame or fortune. (Is this even possible anymore?) Blogging has become part and parcel of my scholarly process. As I work through new ideas, new historiographies and new content areas, I blog to force my thinking into concrete form. It functions as a weirdly public venue of note-taking and analysis. Blogging provides a way for me to work through my research and teaching ideas in short and testable format. The concise and precise nature of blogging means that I have to wrangle with making sense of new projects as well as older ones in meaningful and understandable way for both fellow scholars and a general public. This form of writing lets me say something quickly and coherently as well as get timely feedback from others. Blogging removes some of the intellectual isolation of the academy and forces me to put words to my thoughts about our contemporary moment as well as historical ones. It is about my research but also about my particular view, expertise even, that empowers me to comment. I might be a voice speaking into the nothingness of the internet, but people (I am looking at you, Historiann!)  *do* occasionally read what I write.

Moreover, it allows me to experiment more and more with how I write and what style works best for both my subject matter but also for my analysis. This experimentation, then, shifts my scholarly praxis of arranging words on the page as well. Sometimes my blogging makes a topic more clear. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it illuminates interesting questions about methods of study or my evidence. Sometimes it documents that a topic can be exhausted in a post, which is helpful information to have. Blogging refines my scholarly endeavor. Moreover, the use of constant and continual writing makes me into a better writer. Through this format, I feel like my writing has become more my own and less something I was trained to do. It helped me find a much needed voice to finish my book, and now, I want to experiment more and more with my style. This is a confidence that I somehow lacked before. Blogging has made me more adventurous in both my style and content. How else could I write about steamy Mormon calendars, trauma in religious life or zombies? (Oh wait, I am writing about zombies for real.) It makes me bolder, and I am glad to be back to it.

Now, I am off to grading. But, readers, I have come bringing a gift. Rock out to AC/DC, and I’ll be back soon. I promise.

http://youtu.be/0fSEjlLQcRY