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Title page for ETD etd-03262012-180740

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Phillips, Nichole Renee
Author's Email Address vandygrad2010@gmail.com
URN etd-03262012-180740
Title Evangelical Faith and The Ritualization of Politicized Death: The Power, Authority, and Identity of Rural Blacks and Whites
Degree PhD
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Volney P. Gay Committee Co-Chair
William L. Partridge Committee Co-Chair
Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore Committee Member
Lewis V. Baldwin Committee Member
Thomas A. Gregor Committee Member
  • Religion
  • Race
  • Ritual
  • Politics
  • Practical Theology
  • Congregational Studies
  • Sociology
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Southern
  • Ethnographic
  • Death
Date of Defense 2012-02-24
Availability unrestricted
I conducted ethnographic research on ritual, race, evangelical faith, and southern civil religion in the rural West Tennessee community of Bald Eagles. I asked: What can death rituals disclose about Southern evangelical Christianity, civil religion, and the racial politics of this American town? The American public and some scholars fail to recognize the distinctive forms of Evangelical faith, the racialized nature of Evangelical faith and civil religion, and civil religion and how it functions in different communities. Rituals, I suggest, sacralize public and private spaces in this locale. I study how members of two institutions, the Church and civil religion, employ death rituals to reinforce their political understanding.

Death rituals such as American military ceremonials, U.S. civic holidays, and other practices pay homage to ancestry by venerating the dead. In that way they exemplify the faith and civil religious practices of townsfolk. I seek to explain how non-traditional death rituals are central to the functioning of civil religion and to show how evangelical faith undergirds its operation. To do this I used three research methods.

First, I created a macro-level case study of two congregations—one white, the other black. Second, I employed Don Browning’s concept of a critical hermeneutic theory of society to generate a thick description of these rituals. Third, I used a (")revised critical correlational(") method to bring psychological and anthropological discourses about ritual spaces into conversation and to enhance each. Five important findings emerged from this empirically-based, social psychological study. I show how these public and private rituals answer the question: (")How should we live?(")

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