Dissertation: “Not of This World”: Christian Devotional Literature as Minority Discourse, by J. Stephen Pearson

Pearson’s dissertation draws on scriptural, devotional, and theological texts to argue that the Christian community has historically been a minority within its larger social, cultural, and political context. Here is the abstract:

This dissertation re-reads the history of Western Christianity in order to reconsider notions of Christianized culture and politics. Using concepts from contemporary ethnic studies, I examine devotional works from the Western Christian tradition to expose a thematic thread that depicts the Christian community as a cultural minority: Exile in Patrick of Ireland; Minor Literature in Richard Rolle; Borderlands in Catherine of Genoa; Nationalism in George Fox; Contact Zones in Thomas Merton; and Diaspora in Kathleen Norris. I try to demonstrate that works from mainstream Christian writers can be profitably interpreted using minority discourse: though the authors were not ethnic minorities, their faith gave them a minority position in the world. My analyses are built on scriptural teachings about minority identity from the Book of Daniel, in which the community must learn to live in a foreign culture, and from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus teaches the disciples that they are no longer “of” the world.

Alongside these analyses, I examine the multicultural aspects of Christian missionary work, showing how from its origins Christian history demonstrates a plurality of Christianities, as missionaries adapted their teachings for new cultures and as converts around the globe adopted Christianity on their own terms and developed new forms of Christian theology that use their historical and cultural situations to interpret the scriptures and vice versa. After arising in the poly-cultural Middle East, Christianity quickly spread into Europe, Africa, Asia and, eventually, the Americas, recasting its story for each new cultural context and thereby creating multiple Christianities. At the same time, theologians such as Augustine, Luther and Kierkegaard argued for radical distinctions between religious and political communities. For these theologians, the community of believers differs in essence from the secular political-cultural community; as a result, there can be no expectation of a Christian government or of a Christian culture. It can therefore be said that Christians are commanded by their scriptures, theologians and spiritual masters to embrace a minority status within their own cultures so as to minister to the world without being compromised by it.

The dissertation is freely available as a PDF in Athenaeum@UGA, the digital repository of the University of Georgia.

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