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The Evangelical Habitus

March 27, 2010

One of the best things about Julie Ingersoll’s Evangelical Christian Women is that she defines evangelicalism according to its habitus (in Bourdieu’s sense) rather than its doctrines. What makes evangelicals distinct from fundamentalists, for instance, is not their beliefs—which are largely identical, especially to outsiders not attuned to subtle differences between Protestant groups—but the fact that they have a special way of talking, that they wear WWJD bracelets, that they have Jesus fishes on their cars, and so on. Ingersoll suggests that the ability to recognize the names of figures such as James Dobson or Frank Peretti is part of the evangelical habitus.

One of the most important aspects is evangelical vocabulary, diction, etc. This is easily illustrated by this video (which, it is important to note, is a self-satire by evangelicals of evangelicalism):

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2010 12:23 pm

    Like Christian Smith’s notion of the evangelical subculture, yeah? It works in the contemporary white US American context, but you still have the same problems with any definition of (E/e)vangelicalism either letting too much in and therefore not saying much or the flipside of making it too specific and excluding some or, in this case, most of what would/could be labeled Evangelicalism.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    March 27, 2010 12:38 pm

    No doubt.

  3. Classical Liberal permalink
    March 27, 2010 5:13 pm

    I wish this was real. My in-laws are ‘evangelicals’ and I often have no idea what’s going on, even after knowing them for years.

  4. Beelzebub permalink
    March 28, 2010 1:14 am

    I abhor Christianese. When I hear people talk in it, I suddenly get the feeling that I’m surrounded by children who still believe in the easter bunny, Santa Clause, and so forth. It’s not even the beliefs they hold that irk me, it’s the innocent sheen the words seem to take on when they’re used in that way by those people. Somehow, even though I went to church for nearly all of my first eighteen years and was surrounded by these kinds of people, I lived in a completely different world where that language was completely meaningless.

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    March 28, 2010 9:20 am

    Sometimes it has this extremely condescending while simultaneously sweet tone—like the stereotypical southern belle who says something like: “It’s so great that you can wear that; I’d be too embarrassed!”

  6. Classical Liberal permalink
    March 29, 2010 7:27 pm

    Exactly, Miss Marx – “We’re much holier than thou, but it’s okay, we’re Christian so we’ll still be nice to your face.” Ugh.

  7. April 21, 2010 7:04 pm

    While it is worthwhile to consider the extent to which a cult, sect, denomination or ecclesia can be identified by its various styles of habitus, it is also useful to consider the concept of “ortho-praxy.” Every collectivity, sacred or secular, has its subtle aspects of orthodox social action (social behavior, G. H. Mead). I enjoyed watching the spoof on the interview with the Devil since it gave me a sense of the way in which some Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians really do believe that evil is incarnated in a fallen angel. But rather than reject the idea (the theology) it may be more valuable to accept the “ortho-praxy.” Could Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians accept the idea that “even” Bill Graham is influenced by “the devil”? Is it possible that James Dobson is the devil? Could Frank Peretti escape the devil’s influence? What would it mean for the “subculture” to admit that even the most admired leaders are just as subject to the devil as the least admired followers?

  8. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    April 23, 2010 8:15 am

    Thanks for your comment, Hans! I do like the concept of ortho-praxy, and it does in some cases overlap with the concept of habitus. But I’m not sure I understand the overall point you’re making here; want to rephrase?

  9. April 23, 2010 3:41 pm

    Ortho-praxy (orthopraxy) is a concept frequently used in the study of religions and spiritualities, including comparative religious studies as an inter-disciplinary field and the sociology of religion as a section of the ASA. The term “habitus” on the other hand is especially associated with a specific sociological theorist/social theorist. To some extent I feel that if we buy Bourdieu’s views we can accept his account of habitus, but if we are not willing to follow Bourdieu then we have to be careful to elucidate what we really mean by habitus. As I understand it Bourdieu is keen to reject ideal type models of social structures. At some point Bourdieu’s habitus has to come into conflict with Max Weber’s “social action.” In sociological theory the precise choice of words can make a huge difference to what the nuances of the theory imply. Of course, in everyday conversation we forget all about subtle nuances and use words like “deconstruct” when we mean analyze or “exchange” when we mean interaction, etc.

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  1. The Evangelical Habitas or how to be Orthoprax « The Book of Doctrines and Opinions: notes on Jewish theology and spirituality

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