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Bielefeld Graduate School
in History and Sociology
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Jana Kristin Hoffmann

Family and Gender Concepts in American Mainline Protestantism with a Special Focus on the United Methodist Church 1950-1990 (Working Title)

Religious communities within US society in the second half of the 20th century had an increasing involvement in discourses on family and gender norms, and value systems. In this way, they contributed to the conceptualization, maintenance and regulation of gender concepts and relationships. It will be the purpose of this work to answer the question of whether and how it came to readjustments within the (religious) gender order/ hierarchy, and to demonstrate in this way the mutual relationships between processes of social change and religious family and gender ideas.

In my project I look at US mainline Protestantism, a group of protestant denominations, who situated themselves politically and theologically moderate to liberal in the 1950s to the 1990s and who represented in their self-image the white middle class. Within this broad and heterogeneous group I will focus on the United Methodist Church one of the largest denomination within mainline Protestantism.

Since the 1950s enhanced processes of democratization and the emergence of new social movements (civil rights movement, women`s liberation movement, gay rights movement) took place in the US as well as in many other Western societies. The intensified engagement of mainline Protestants in the second half of the 20th century can be seen as a striking response to the social changes in this period. Crucial for the analysis of mainline Protestantism also is the formation of the Christian Right (since the 1970s) in the US society in reaction to this pluralization. The United Methodist Church, as a core thesis of the project was challenged several times by these processes of social pluralism on the one hand, and theological and religious fundamentalism on the other hand. This leads to two questions: first, what role did the category of gender play in the attempt of the Methodists to stabilize and expand its position in the mainstream ?church? by strengthening its own gender concepts, e.g. by theological legitimization. Secondly, how Methodists undertook interpretational shifts and changes in the construction of gender through the active demarcation outwards, and how this possibly changed the idea of religious community. These debates were primarily concerned with negotiations on family concepts.

The project will focus on two issues (Bedeutungskomplexe) - sexuality and work - to discusses the questions of how within the United Methodist Church concepts of masculinity and femininity and their relationship to each other were discursively produced and how this production of gender was argumentative bought and used to establish and to generate social order and to constitute religious community.

Curriculum Vitae

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