Tish Harrison Warren lit up the internet with an essay for Christianity Today that asked, “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?” In her piece, Warren addressed “a crisis of authority” resulting from so much de facto discipleship occurring on social media rather than in the church—a phenomenon that, for a variety of reasons, women have experienced most acutely.
Even before Warren’s essay was published, Kate Bowler, associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School, was compiling years of research on the conditions within modern American evangelicalism that helped lead to this state of affairs. She discovered that evangelical women, denied traditional means of authority within the church (and sometimes the culture), were becoming increasingly adept at tapping into newer forms of authority brought about by the age of mass media and the cult of celebrity it has wrought. In The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities, she examines how Christian women—within both conservative and liberal church traditions—have exploited the power of beauty, therapy, family, and pop art to exert authority of their own. Author and Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior spoke with Bowler about her book.
One of the unique qualities of your research and writing is that you bring the sort of personal experience to your subject that many scholars, particularly in the field of religion, lack. You have roots in a conservative Christian tradition—but you’re not mad about it. Can you talk about that?
I grew up among the Mennonites in the plains of Manitoba in a broadly evangelical tradition, ...1
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