Frequent readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience will be familiar with my master’s thesis, completed in 2012 at Temple University. (I blogged about it here, and here.) “Born-Again Brethren: History as Identity and Theology in the Cultural Transformation of a ‘Plain People’” explores how the Brethren in Christ Church used history to shape its identity in the latter decades of the twentieth century. It particularly explores how they reacted to the influence of Evangelicalism on their identity.
Here’s the full abstract for the thesis:
This essay examines the ways in which one Protestant faith community has, over the course of the last six decades, deployed history as a means to form identity and shape practical theologies for daily living, in response to a particular transformation of its culture. Beginning in the middle decades of the twentieth century, the Brethren in Christ Church transformed from a small, separatist religious society into a growing mainstream evangelical denomination. Central to this transformation was the church’s increasing investment in the larger American evangelical movement. Since the 1970s, church members have hotly debated their denomination’s “evangelical turn.” While some see it as an inspiring story that captures the church’s missionary essence, others see it as a tale of acculturation to “worldly” society. This contestation, however, rests on a misunderstanding of the denomination’s “post-turn” history. By re-narrating the church’s “evangelical turn” and leveraging that narrative into a collaborative, web-based interpretive exhibit, I seek to empower the Brethren in Christ community to better understand its history. Ultimately, I conclude that throughout the last sixty years and into the present, members of the church have used and continue to use history to understand both who they are and how they should live—conclusions with significant implications for the practice of public history among faith communities.
Of course, as an academic publication, my thesis can be a bit dry. And it probably contains some material — like an extended discussion of the literature of the public history discipline — that won’t matter much to the readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience.
For those who are more interested in the narrative of the Brethren in Christ and Evangelicalism, check out Born-Again Brethren, a web exhibit I created alongside my master’s thesis manuscript.