Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on ReligionInstitute for Studies of Relgion
IJRR :: 2018 Volume 14 :: Article 11
2018 Volume 14, Article 11
“Head Knowledge Isn’t Enough”: Bible Visualization and Congregational Culture in an Evangelical Church

Author: Mark Ward Sr. (University of Houston-Victoria Victoria, Texas)

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Ethnographers of American evangelicalism agree that “the Bible” functions within the subculture as a ritual totem, that Bible study cell groups are crucial social units, and that Bible reading is less about interpreting texts than appropriating their authority for personal applications. The present study, based on three years of fieldwork at a North American evangelical congregation, affirms this consensus while adding a new contribution. Missing from previous studies of “how the Bible works” is the role of Bible visualization in congregational life. This study demonstrates how visual persuasion builds on a penchant in American evangelical culture for visual communication. As this dynamic was observed in situ, congregational culture was subtly altered in ways that contravened the church’s espoused values as connections to printed texts were attenuated, sermons increasingly featured eisegesis (projecting meaning into the biblical text) alongside exegesis (extracting meaning from the text), and congregational life was colonized by evangelical mass culture. Then, too, few studies explore how “mediatization” of religion extends into everyday congregational life. The present study elaborates this perspective and contributes to a growing ethnographic literature on American evangelicalism by describing Bible visualization practices crucial to a subculture with which one in four U.S. adults identifies. In so doing, field observations are analyzed through an extension of Petty and Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model that accounts for cognitive- cultural models as persuasive cues.

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