What's In A Name? Scholarship and the Pathology of Conservative Protestantism

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion


Conservative Protestants are often defined by their reactionary response to a changing world, and their social and theological embrace of a rigid, absolutist order. This essay considers what is at stake in this definition. The essay analyzes common modes of differentiation between liberal and conservative Protestants (e.g., theology, demographics, and political affiliations) to see whether the different ways of describing these two groups is methodologically warranted. Concluding that significant overlap exists between these communities, the essay turns to Judith Butler's model of pathological rhetoric to consider why such otherwise descriptively problematic labels such as “conservative Protestant,” “fundamentalist,” and “evangelical” continue to be used by scholars.

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