King, “The Anthropology of Christianity Goes to Seminary”

King, Rebekka. 2014. The Anthropology of Christianity Goes to Seminary. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 5:255-260.

Excerpt: “I didn’t know that we were the repugnant other,” my student Tracy exclaimed as she entered the classroom and tossed her books on the table. “I didn’t know that anthropologists were interested in studying us at all!” “Yes, I imagine it comes as a surprise,” I responded as I finished mov- ing the classroom desks into a semi-circle that was intended to facilitate the creation of spaces marked by open dialogue and diversity—core pedagogical concerns of the institution at which I was teaching. It was the second day of class, and Tracy’s comments were in response to Joel Robbins’s (2003) article “What Is a Christian? Notes toward an Anthropology of Christianity.” His discussion of Susan Harding’s infamous ‘repugnant cultural other’, which Robbins describes as an “anomalous mixture of the similar and the different” (ibid.: 193), had hit a nerve. Tracy’s question about anthropological interests in the Christian subject was an expected one, given that I was leading a special topics seminar on the Anthropology of Christianity to master of divinity students at the Candler School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia…

Moral Minority: Book Review

Swartz, David R. 2012. Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in the Age of Conservatism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

By: Rebekka King (Middle Tennessee State University)

David R. Swartz has invited you to party. At first glance, the party appears to be a disparate group: the well-dressed Republican senator Mark Hatfield is engaged in a deep conversation with scraggly haired Jim Wallis. Indeed, the room is filled with politically progressive evangelical thinkers, authors and activists. It is a party that is captured in Swartz’s use of Richard Mouw’s phrase the “evangelical diaspora of the ‘60s,” a group which has been regathered with “renewed piety” and a “passion for social activism” (139). As Swartz wheels you around, he takes the time to provide you with the back-story of these important figures present. He tells you about their families, educational pedigree and the major turning points that lead to their lifetime involvement in social activism, theological discernment and political engagement. “This,” he begins, “is Carl Henry.” He goes on to tell you that “no figure embodied the vital shift to political engagement more than Carl Henry, a theologian, editor, and architect of neo-evangelicalism” (15). After Henry, Swartz moves on to other prominent figures who continue to animate neo-evangelical circles. In the corner of the room, Sharon Gallagher is speaking about authenticity in the context of Berkeley’s “Christian World Liberation Front” and Samuel Escobar is reminding the group of the importance of listening to Latin American theologies and politics in order to resist the infiltration of American imperialism. Continue reading

King, “The New Heretics”

King, Rebekka. 2012. The New Heretics: Popular Theology, Progressive Christianity, and Protestant Language Ideologies. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. for the Study of Religion. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto.

Abstract: This dissertation investigates the development of progressive Christianity. It explores the ways in which progressive Christian churches in Canada adopt biblical criticism and popular theology. Contributing to the anthropology of Christianity, this study is primarily an ethnographic and linguistic analysis that juxtaposes contemporary conflicts over notions of the Christian self into the intersecting contexts of public discourse, contending notions of the secular and congregational dynamics. Methodologically, it is based upon two-and-a-half years of in-depth participant observation research at five churches and distinguishes itself as the first scholarly study of progressive Christianity in North America. I begin this study by outlining the historical context of skepticism in Canadian Protestantism and arguing that skepticism and doubt serve as profoundly religious experiences, which provide a fuller framework than secularization in understanding the experiences of Canadian Protestants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In doing so, I draw parallels between the ways that historical and contemporary North American Christians negotiate the tensions between their faith and biblical criticism, scientific empiricism and liberal morality. Chapter Two seeks to describe the religious, cultural and socio-economic worlds inhabited by the progressive Christians featured in this study. It focuses on the worldviews that emerge out of participation in what are primarily white, middle-class, liberal communities and considers how these identity-markers affect the development and lived experiences of progressive Christians. My next three chapters explore the ways that certain engagements with text and the performance or ritualization of language enable the development of a distinctly progressive Christian modality. Chapter Three investigates progressive Christian textual ideologies and argues that the form of biblical criticism that they employ, along with entrenched concerns about the origins of the Christian faith ultimately, leads to a rejection of the biblical narrative. Chapter Four examines the ways in which progressive Christians understand individual ‘deconversion’ narratives as contributing to a shared experience or way of being Christian that purposefully departs from evangelical Christianity. The final chapter analyses rhetoric of the future and argues that progressive Christians employ eschatological language that directs progressive Christians towards an ultimate dissolution.