Title

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? GENDERED CHILDREN’S BIBLES, BIBLICAL INFALLIBILITY, AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER IN EVANGELICAL COMMUNITIES

Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics

Advisor(s)

Susan Wadley

Keywords

bibles, evangelical, gender, infallibility, linguistics, women

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities

Abstract

This project delves into a concept that underpins almost everything about who we are and how we present ourselves to the world: gender. Specifically, this project examines how gender is constructed among evangelical Christians in the US, a group whose numbers and history have a strong influence on politics and secular culture. Contributing to existing scholarship in linguistic anthropology and gender studies, I examine the language in two gendered children’s Bibles, which contain features inserted alongside the text of the Bibles themselves. I view these features using both Duranti’s concept of linguistic frames and Kenneth Burke’s idea of the terministic screen. The placement of these features differs greatly, and at times the absence of inserted materials is just as telling as their inclusion—for example, the girls’ Bible contains extra materials on a passage about modesty, while the boys’ contains none, echoing the trend in secular society of putting the onus on women in situations of sexual harassment. The language within the features diverges strongly as well. The result? Boys and girls in evangelical speech communities might as well be reading two separate books entirely.

Many US evangelicals are pushing against current norms and insisting that the country needs to return to Christian ideals of the past, such as abstinence before heterosexual marriage and women as stay-at-home mothers. Those who argue for these ideals came to their views on gender through a lifelong gendering process involving explicit and implicit instruction on what is considered to be acceptable with regards to gender performance. This process is informed largely by the Bible, no doubt because evangelicals are characterized by a belief in biblical infallibility, making the Bible the epistemological base upon which all knowledge is constructed. Certain biblical passages are construed as containing truths about gender that transcend time and culture and still hold true today: this means that alternate epistemologies are devalued if they are perceived to be in conflict with the scriptures.

I anticipated that these linguistic framings would introduce and repeatedly reify evangelical ideas of gender, even when referencing passages unrelated to gender. Though only a fraction of these features was examined, the results reveal that biblical passages are presented to boys and girls in radically different ways, and that while certain passages are explained as being irrelevant due to cultural differences between biblical times and today, others are presented as containing eternal truths that apply just as much now as they did in biblical times and cultures. In addition, children are unlikely to doubt the veracity of these claims due to their proximity to the text itself, which is assumed to be infallible. These differences lead to specific and disparate conceptions of gender that have concrete implications in the lives of evangelicals and others. These Bibles provide a valuable glimpse into the gendering process that shapes the views of a large portion of the modern US.

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