Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on ReligionInstitute for Studies of Relgion
IJRR :: 2021 Volume 17 :: Article 3
2021 Volume 17, Article 3
Gendering by Design: The Visual Language of Essentialism in Evangelical Material Culture

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

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One in four Americans identifies as an evangelical Christian. In the “parallel universe” of the evangelical subculture, gender essentialism is advocated as divine mandate. The material culture that shapes everyday evangelical life reproduces and naturalizes gendered dualism so that egalitarian views are delegitimized and rendered unthinkable. This study contributes to the literature on evangelical gender ideology as it goes beyond written texts and examines the visual language of evangelical material culture. As representative artifacts of this culture, mass-circulation women’s and men’s devotional magazines published by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest evangelical denomination, are analyzed. Their respective designs reveal symbolically potent arrangements of texts, fonts, graphics, images, colors, and patterns that work in combination to tacitly reify evangelical gender norms. Using Hall’s Audience Reception Theory as a framework, the study demonstrates how evangelical institutions encode, and evangelical audiences decode, a dominant reading of gender essentialism in the visual language of mass evangelical material culture.

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