REFORMED RESURGENCE: THE NEW CALVINIST MOVEMENT AND THE BATTLE OVER AMERICAN EVANGELICALISM

Calvinism has long been of interest to social scientists as a strict, early-modern theological system that eventually facilitated the rise of modern capitalism, radical politics, and state power. This book project turns the lens on Calvinism more directly, examining and explaining the increasing prominence of Calvinism in American Evangelicalism today. This "New Calvinist" or "Neo-Reformed" movement has garnered nationwide attention over recent years as an influential Christian trend that runs counter to advanced-modern sensibilities of self-determination, relativistic tolerance, and egalitarianism. This research explains how pastors, seminary professors, and other Calvinist leaders use and engage with elements of post-modern culture to position themselves strategically relative to the rest of American Evangelicalism, and how this serves to advance their distinctive early-modern ideology. Drawing from the sociology of culture, religion, movements, and organizations—and highlighting issues of power, conflict, ideology, strategy, gender, and more—this project develops a new, field-theoretic model of religious strength. The findings indicate that religious vitality is less at the mercy of the external forces of advanced modernity than it is an outworking of its leaders’ strategic efforts. But ironically, as Calvinism experiences a resurgence in its field, American Evangelicalism has turned in on itself such that the strength of one religious tribe ultimately comes at the cost of the increasing weakness and incoherence of the field as a whole. Data are from participant observation at three leading Calvinist megachurches; interviews with pastors, seminary professors and presidents, and other Evangelical leaders and cultural producers; and content analysis of a host of Evangelical books, sermons, and websites.

STRUCTURAL OVERLAP AND THE MANAGEMENT OF CULTURAL MARGINALITY: THE CASE OF CALVINIST HIP-HOP - Published in American Journal of Cultural Sociology 4(1): 68-106.

This study explains four ways cultural marginality is managed when it comes to the issue of cultural production, both by the producers themselves and by field-specific cultural authorities. To do so, it revives the prewar concepts of “the marginal man” and “marginal culture” and reframes them in terms of overlapping social structures. As a case of this general phenomenon, this project investigates the public discourse and performances of 22 Calvinist hip-hop artists affiliated with five independent start-up record labels, showing how they navigate their place on the margins of both mainstream American hip-hop and their own conservative religious movement (i.e., the New Calvinism). The findings specify four causal mechanisms for the management of marginality. The first two pertain to the ways cultural authorities approach marginal artists as object, namely: authorities function as gatekeepers who grant moral acceptability upon the marginal product and who conspicuously display the marginal product and its producers in order to demonstrate their own commitments to diversity and inclusion. The second two mechanisms speak to the ways marginal artists, as subjects, manage their own marginality, namely: these artists draw symbolic boundaries to avoid being pigeonholed and they insist upon the unity of their self-understandings to foster authenticity. The article ends by discussing how this work contributes to the sociology of religion, sociological theory, and cultural sociology. The data are from publicly available online discourse.

THEORIZING MARGINAL CULTURE

Recent sociological work has addressed cultural marginality but this work remains unintegrated and the concept underdeveloped. This article theorizes marginality as an eccentric social structural location and marginal culture as the interpersonally shared meanings emergent from such social locations. Marginal cultural objects are objects to which persons ascribe eccentric meanings. The concepts of marginal culture and marginal cultural objects are then illustrated using four examples extant in the literature—namely, theological hip-hop, conservative social scientists, outsider art, and first-generation college students. Possible directions for future research into marginal culture are discussed to conclude the paper.