Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Anthea D. Butler

Abstract

This dissertation claims that the early Pentecostals in the Church of God movement were neither white nor Protestant. In turn this project argues that the early Church of God sought to embody religious identities and actions that indirectly illustrated religious constructions of race in the aesthetics of Protestant religion. This dissertation historically interrogates the microhistory of the Church of God movement with a epicenter in Cleveland, Tennessee in 1884 to 1923, alongside the writing and construction of histories in the 1950s that sought to remember this history and construct a white Protestant identity.

Using lived religion and myth theory from religious studies this project documents the alternate religious identity of Spirit filled bodies by early Church of God members in its founding era 1884 to 1923. These alternate identities are foiled to the contemporaneous historic and social constructs of race and gender. Instead of professing a private belief, this dissertation claims that early Church of God members lived a religion of alternate identity as “Spirit filled bodies.” In doing such this dissertation documents how they confronted and contradicted social expectations for race and gender as they enacted Holiness Pentecostalism a restorationist religion that broke time to restore the acts and miracles of ancient Christianity. Using social history this dissertation contextualizes these countercultural activities within the longer and broader Holiness movement of the late-nineteenth-century.

In contrast to the countercultural activity of this early history, the dissertation critically dissects the later written history project of the Church of God (Cleveland) in 1955 that employed a racial myth of Appalachian white ancestry. Alongside this denominational history project, this project challenges the prevailing academic depictions of Pentecostals as “primitive” and uses the microhistory of the Church of God to illustrate the embedded historic racial biases of this scholarly interpretation. Finally this dissertation documents and interprets the visual and material history of the Church of God of Prophecy in 1952 that sought to continue an embodied restorationism rather than adhere to Protestant norms for respectability.

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