The Author, the Atheist, and the Academic Study of Religion
Bourdieu and the Reception of Biblical Criticism by Progressive Christians
Keywords:Pierre Bourdieu, Progressive Christianity, Popular Religion
Recently, there has been an upsurge in the publication of popular biblical criticisms, as exemplified by the popular works of scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Bart Ehrman and the Jesus Seminar, as well as by theological thinkers such as Bishop John Shelby Spong. My paper draws upon two years of formal anthropological fieldwork conducted at five North American mainline liberal churches that feature reading and discussion groups involved in the study of biblical criticism at a lay or popular level. In offering an analysis of progressive Christianity that engages with the scholarly works of Pierre Bourdieu, I propose to do two things. First, I argue that the study of religion and biblical criticism by progressive Christians serves as an ideal venue in which they are able to construct, articulate and proudly assume an alternative, non-normative Christian identity. I suggest that this identity is one that is formed in opposition to an evangelical or fundamentalist representation of Christianity, which I term, following Jonathan Z. Smith, a ‘Protestant proximate other’ (Smith 2004: 253).
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