Juzwik, “American Evangelical Biblicism”

April 4, 2014

Juzwik, Mary M. 2014. American Evangelical Biblicism as Literate Practice: A Critical Review. Reading Research Quarterly. Early online publication.

Abstract: Practices of Biblical reading and interpretation are central to the literacy lives of those who call themselves evangelical Christians. More than one third of the U.S. population identifies as evangelical Christians, making evangelical Biblicism a pervasive and influential—if under-the-radar—literacy practice in U.S. life. Scholars of American evangelicalism have traditionally understood belief in the Bible as authoritative as one defining characteristic of the evangelical subculture in the United States. However, scholars interested in language, interpretation, and textual practices are only beginning to map out the contours of the literacy practices and ideologies entailed by American evangelical Biblicism. Critically reviewing scholarship across history, anthropology, religious studies, and sociology, I characterize evangelical Biblicism as an interpretive tradition mediated by a complex set of sociocultural practices and textual ideologies. From this standpoint, Biblicism involves the unceasing work of establishing and sustaining a transitive relationship among biblical text, right beliefs, and righteous actions. This set of relations gives rise to an interpretive tension that evangelicals have historically navigated between the necessity of interpretive freedom, allowing the Bible to live anew for each generation of believers (presence in the world), and the unchanging Truth of God’s word (the purity of the Word). Evangelicals dialogically mediate the transitivity among text, belief, and action—and attendant tensions between the purity of the Biblical Word and its presence in the world—in textual communities. Bibles themselves function as mediating literacy artifacts and articles of commerce in a global evangelical print culture. This understanding of American evangelical Biblicism as literate practice raises new questions and issues for literacy scholarship, related to how young people are introduced to evangelical Biblicist traditions and practices; how evangelical Biblicist traditions, practices, and ideologies travel around, across, and beyond textual communities; and how evangelical Biblicism shapes teaching and learning in schools.

 

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