“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.
Reformed Resurgence: The New Calvinist Movement and the Battle Over American Evangelicalism (currently under review)
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.
A Precise Theory of Culture and Cultural Things (currently under review)
Sociology remains mired in longstanding conceptual difficulties on the concept of culture. In an effort to achieve greater conceptual rigor, 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-thing, 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 theorized as multilayered, vast, and an unavoidable outflow of human nature. The paper concludes by specifying several of culture’s causal capacities and affordances and the implications of this conception of culture for future social research and theorizing.