For my senior thesis I plan to analyze the intersection of modern, secular American culture and evangelical subculture as it occurs in evangelical churches. More specifically, I want to better understand how churches, as institutions, engage in this cultural interplay, and how their congregants conceptualize it. Although I am still in the process of fine-tuning my research design, I envision spending significant amounts of time as a participant observer in a handful of evangelical churches in the Tacoma area, and possibly in Portland. In-depth, semi-structured interviews with church leaders and congregants and analysis of church materials will also supplement my observations.
My inspiration for this project comes from the fusion of personal experience and academic interests. Growing up Christian, the workings of churches, both on Sunday mornings and beyond, has always fascinated me. Add to this curiosity a healthy helping of social theory and a religion minor, and the result is an inevitable interest in the sociology of religion. The direction of my thesis was also influenced by ethnographic work I conducted last spring on Christian ministry-workers’ perceptions about their place within secular culture. This project fed my curiosity about the sacred-secular dynamic within American Christianity, making me want to better understand this dynamic from angles beyond the perspective of “professional Christians.” This initial research fed my curiosity enough to make the church as an institution a key point of focus for my thesis.
[Note: In the reconfigured SOAN curriculum, seniors in the department spend their Fall semester reading somewhat comprehensively on two topics they select from the breadth of sociological and anthropological interests. For many of the seniors, that new foundation in the social scientific literature will inform the independent research projects they will design and then conduct in the Spring semester. As we approach the midway point of the Fall semester, I asked students in my thesis seminar to sketch the research projects they are configuring for their last semester at Puget Sound. At this point, these are just plans, but collectively this group of projects look great.]