Pluralism, Boundary-Making, and Community-Building
in North-American Religious Periodicals
Religion is for many people across the globe and for the majority of US-American people an integral part of their self-conception, and therefore a difference that matters. Religion pertains to a special form of human differentiation, because it is—to a certain degree—invisible and not stable: While material signs exist that signal religious affiliation (the wearing of the kippah by Jewish men or the turban by Sikhs, for instance), religion is unlike age or race, for instance, not a visible distinction inferred from the body. This invisibility combined with the fact that people can change their religious beliefs, or that people can lose their faith, makes religion a distinction that needs persistent affirmation. Since the colonial period, periodicals served as an important means for religious affirmation and community building. This research project examines how contemporary evangelical periodicals enact human differentiations that pertain to religion in contemporary US society.
The periodical is just one example among a multitude of different forms of communication to foster religious differences. Especially their periodicity makes magazines an ideal carrier for religious self-confirmation. Given an expanding and competitive religious market in the US, the press and the religious entrepreneurs behind it employ different strategies of inclusion and exclusion. Religious magazines incessantly reimagine one’s own position and compare it to those of others. In this sense, religious magazines continuously practice ‘un/doing’ religion.
Evangelicalism is exemplary for new ways of American religious life existing independent of—and frequently co-existing or cross-existing with—traditional (Western) models of religious organization (like the institutionalized churches in Europe or the denominations in the US). Accordingly, present evangelicalism depends on a well-established periodical press to provide continuity and religious guidance, and to determine belonging by negotiating racial and ethnic differences, educational and generational differences, and theological differences.
In a first stage of research (2013-2016), the project analyzes the production of religious differences focusing on the flagship magazine of US evangelicalism, Christianity Today. In light of existing studies that surveyed American evangelicalism until the 1990s, there is a need today for a more systematic analysis of evangelicals based on more recent data, especially about the evangelical press of the last two decades. In order to provide a broader overview of the divisions and possible changes among American evangelicals, the project investigates Christianity Today from the late 1990s to the present.
As the leading magazine of US evangelicals and currently the most successful religious magazine in the United States, Christianity Today has developed into a multi-media powerhouse used by evangelicals to shape the American religious landscape. The project examines Christianity Today as a medium of religious differentiation and seeks to show how the magazine produces religion—in this case evangelicalism—as the most important category of reference for religious, social, and political differences.
Scheiding, Oliver and Anja-Maria Bassimir. “Religion – Schrift – Differenz: Materialität und Presseforschung im Spiegel evangelikaler Zeitschriften der USA.” Eds. Herbert Kalthoff et al. Materialität: Herausforderung für die Sozial- und Kulturwissenschaften: München: Wilhelm Fink, 2015 (forthcoming).
Scheiding, Oliver and Anja-Maria Bassimir, eds. Religious Press and Print Culture: Collaborations, New Groupings, and Divisions from Colonialism to Globalization (submitted for publication); see conference Website.
Religious Press and Print Culture Conference (November 19-22, 2014)