Book: Buddhist Violence and Religious Authority
Chapter: 10. Contested Authority: Evangelicalism as a Cultural System
As scholars of religion wrote about white evangelicalism in the U.S. they too often defaulted to a definition of the movement put forth by historians who were themselves elite, white, male, evangelicals; policing the boundaries of their movement. As intellectual elites, their definition was almost entirely rooted in beliefs and functioned to legitimate their clam to the authority to delineate authenticity.
The most influential formulation of this definition became known as the Bebbington Quadrilateral, which asserted that evangelicalism is characterized by four emphases: the bible, the cross, conversion, and activism. And while we can see all these emphases in the movement we call evangelicalism, nothing in the “Quadrilaterial” can account for why some 80% of white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump to be president, So, as a definition of the movement, it seems lacking. Instead, as this paper will argue, there are other key dimensions to this movement that are much more salient, and that this movement is best understood when we see it in cultural terms.
This paper will explore one aspect of a cultural definition of (white) evangelicalism; a shared temperament that rests on an adversarial understanding of themselves in relationship to “the world.” It will show how, rather than being based in a seemingly fixed creedal formulation, evangelicalism is malleable and in a never ending process of social construction.