Sunday Morning Matters: The Production of Gendered Subjects in White Evangelical Life

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As evangelical Christian demographics in the United States have increasingly diversified, pundits and scholars have sought to understand the persistent political power of white American evangelicals. This interdisciplinary dissertation argues that a key mechanism of the political formation of white evangelical Christians has been hiding in plain sight: The weekly church worship service in predominantly white congregations has provided remarkable continuity as a means of political formation for churchgoers, particularly through worship rituals indebted to ideologies of gender and race. Drawing on Black feminist thought, phenomenology, and the anthropology of religion, I describe the white evangelical church worship service as an axis of “haunting” across time and space, where patriarchal relations of power built on racialized discourses of manhood and womanhood continue to shape the everyday lives of churchgoing women. I rely on textual analysis of evangelical digital culture and original ethnographic fieldwork, including interviews, with churchgoing women in the southern U.S. to uncover how women’s experiences in church structure their consciousness in dimensions of their lives not often considered inherently “religious”—work and labor, sex and marriage, performance and material culture, and the knowledge and discipline of the self. In clarifying this phenomenological process by which churchgoing women become gendered and therefore political subjects, the project identifies the significance of the white evangelical church worship service to white evangelical subject formation and the implication of white supremacy in this process. More broadly, the dissertation calls for a reappraisal of the importance of religious ritual to the construction of identity and difference in and through white American Christianity.