Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Communication

First Advisor

John L. Jackson

Abstract

“What God Gave to Us”: Digital habits and the shifting social imaginary of American evangelicalism examines how “digital habitus” (following Bourdieu, 1977; Sterne, 2000) has shaped the social imaginary (Taylor, 2004) of the American evangelical subculture. Using mixed qualitative methods including real-world ethnographic participant observation, interviews, and digital ethnography, the author presents four case studies that spring from what the author conceives of as a “digital unconscious” (following from Walter Benjamin’s (2010) notion of the “optical unconscious”) of evangelicalism. This study begins by situating evangelical digital habitus in the context of the long history of media use in American evangelicalism, a history that has often seen this subculture using media technologies means to prove their fitness in the modern world. In my first case study I analyze how contemporary evangelical worship spaces have become infused with technology and technological products. I take Life.Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, which calls itself a “startup church” as the central example of how churches are adapting their services and spaces to meet the needs of a suburban populace increasingly defined by digital habitus. My second case study explores the world of faith tech. My interviews explore how these religious entrepreneurs negotiate their place in the hierarchical culture of technology production centered in Silicon Valley. I also discuss how many evangelicals see their work as having “redemptive” potential for both the tech industry and American culture. In my third case study I analyze the motivations of a network of Christian missionaries who are dedicated to incorporating new media technology into missions work. I argue that these evangelicals are wary of corporate culture and instead identify with the early visionaries of the internet especially with the Free and Open Source Software movement. Their experiments with technology have run into problems in indigenous contexts and these issues have revealed the problems inherent in the Western nature of technology production. Lastly, this study turns to users and takes a network of female evangelicals on Twitter as examples of a new connective feminism in evangelical culture brought about by the affordances of digital media.

Embargoed

Available to all on Sunday, June 06, 2021

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