Biblical women of influence: feminine identities, imbued bodies, and intimacy among conservative evangelicals in the Ozarks
Nagle, Alice Elaine
This thesis is about Christian women. It demonstrates how embodied Christian gender is intrinsically linked to ontological architecture in the ethnographic context of a semi-enclaved, pro-natalist, homeschooling conservative evangelical community in the Baptist-majority region of Northwest Arkansas in the American Ozarks. As a point of departure, it presents the question woven into conservative evangelical orthopraxis and epistemology: What does it mean to be a Christian woman? In so doing, the thesis contributes to a better understanding of a facet of American Christianity that has yet to be fully characterised, often being conflated with other forms of mainline Protestantism. In order to understand the question of womanhood, the thesis explores emic preoccupation with pivotal feminine identities, and processes, or ‘moments’ of embodying those identities. Embodiment takes on special significance for conservative evangelical women, as it encompasses the feminine, sexual, and reproductive body, as well as the aegis of the physically indwelling Holy Spirit. The thesis approaches Christian feminine identities as cumulative rather than schismatic, forming a gestalt view of womanhood that cannot be distinguished from the conceptualisation of personhood. Furthermore, the thesis shows that, through moments of becoming identities, women consciously or unconsciously exert influence on ethical frameworks, thereby creating shifts in the habitus, or even the very ontology, of Christian life. Moving beyond approaches to everyday piety based on ritual and disciplined action, the thesis offers an interpretive framework for ordinary ethics as it is interplayed with women’s spiritual discernment, intimate negotiation, and desire. Toward that end, the thesis demonstrates the ethical significance of intimate action, such as in the context of romance, sexual intercourse, and giving birth. Christian epistemology for wives and mothers relies on perpetual discourse, in the form of formal pedagogy, quotidian communication, and ‘discipleship literature,’ all of which offer strata over which women apply their own Biblical interpretation and embodied spiritual knowledge. Therefore, the thesis complicates analytical approaches to birthing, aiming to uncouple extant notions of authority from embodied knowledge. Finally, the thesis proposes to integrate the idea of failure into portraits of Christian womanhood, including patterns of ideologically cohesive failure that may be perceived as an additional feminine identity. Overall, the thesis endeavours to stitch together a quilt of identities that women create of and for themselves, ultimately engendering integral transformation.