Reformed Resurgence: The New Calvinist Movement and the Battle Over American Evangelicalism (under contract with Oxford University Press)

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 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 in recent years as an influential Christian trend that runs counter to advanced-modern sensibilities of self-determination, relativistic tolerance, and egalitarianism. This book 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 worldview. 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 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 Evangelical field as a whole.

“Structural Overlap and the Management of Cultural Marginality: The Case of Calvinist Hip-Hop.” 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.

A Realist Theory of Culture and Cultural Things — In Search of Coherence (currently under review)

American sociology remains mired in longstanding conceptual difficulties on the concept of culture. In an effort to achieve greater conceptual rigor and precision, in this paper “culture” is defined narrowly as the relatively enduring, emergently supra-personal significance and meanings of things. Turning more broadly toward “things,” a “cultural thing” is defined as any entity, whether material or nonmaterial, that multiple persons ascribe shared significance to—and for which this shared significance analytically “works back” in order to constitute at least partially what that thing even is. Examples of cultural things include physical cultural objects, cultural practices, declarative cultural knowledge, and (usually nondeclarative) cultural skills, habits, and dispositions—none of which are culture “proper.” Culture is then theorized as multilayered, vast, and an unavoidable outflow of human nature. The paper concludes by specifying several of culture’s causal capacities and affordances as well as the implications of this conception of culture for future social research and theorizing.