Mar 5, 2013

Abstracts: regarding contemporary evangelical cultural engagements

The Kincade Case for Kincade: The Painter of Light’s Arguments for His Art 

When Thomas Kincade died in 2012, his images hung in one out of every twenty American homes. His works sold for up to $250 million annually, and were regularly dismissed as kitsch. Kincade, however, continually argued with the gatekeepers of the art establishment about the importance and aesthetic value of his work. He positioned himself as peer to Daimen Hirst and Jeff Koons, and also Walt Disney, refusing to accept that popularity was antithetical to artistic value, or that his ideological embrace of sentimentality meant he could never be taken seriously. This paper traces those career-long struggles.

Previous scholars -- notably in Thomas Kincade: The Artist in the Mall, edited by Alexis L. Boylan -- reevaluated Kincade by considering him in the context of conceptual and transgressive art, problematizing distinctions between art and kitsch. This paper seeks to further that reevaluation, demonstrating that Kincade’s own arguments should be taken seriously.

Explaining the Market for Christian Fiction

Christian fiction occupies a peculiar place in twenty first century America. Despite significant commercial success and these novels’ regular best-seller status, people are still surprised Christian fiction exists. Readers puzzle over reasons for Christian fiction genres on websites such as Goodreads, and express shock in one-star reviews on Cultural critics psychoanalyze Christian fiction readers, speculating on their pathologies and on what the popularity of these novels says about contemporary American.

This paper proposes a better answer to the question of why Christian fiction exists. Examining historical developments in twentieth and twenty-first century book markets and critically examining the evolution of what Robert Darnton called books’ “communications circuit,” i.e., processes of authorship, publication, distribution, sales and consumption, the argument is made that the Christian fiction readership should be demystified and “detotalized.” Shifts in consumer capitalism, rather than readers’ religious pathologies, account for the market for Christian fiction.

Re-considering Demonization in Popular Spiritual Warfare Fiction

Demonization marks the end of the possibility of reasonable discourse. When opponents are characterized as demonic and disagreements are not thought of as matters of method or degree but rather as about ultimate fealty to forces of good and evil, dialogue is rendered impossible.

The prominence and success of spiritual warfare fiction in the last 35 years, then, would seem to be another sign of the intractability of America’s “culture war.” In this wildly popular genre of evangelical Christian fiction, cultural conflicts are depicted as the machinations of Satanic forces. The metaphor of “demonization” is imagined in the most literal ways. Millions of readers avidly consume these novels, where demons are elaborately realized and contemporary social reality is re-rendered as spiritual battle. Imaginations formed by such fictions, it would seem, would be completely closed to compromise. As journalist Daniel Radosh wrote, speaking on behalf of liberals, “common ground will never be possible because they don't object to specific ideas that can be reframed or adjusted. They object to Satan, whose bidding we are doing.”

Counterintuitively, this paper argues that this genre of evangelical fiction doesn’t foreclose discourse, but opens new possibilities. The paper closely examines representations of the demonic realms of cultural conflicts in the popular fiction of contemporary Pentecostal novelists such as Frank Peretti, Tosca Lee and Linda Rios Brooks, and considers them in the context of theories of ideology and ideological conflict. Investigating specific instances of the conceptualization of spiritual warfare enables a more nuanced and thorough understanding of the function of imagined demons, demonstrating the multiple ways the fictive depictions of demonic spheres serve to move readers to more open and even empathetic engagement with those with whom they disagree. Fictions of demonization mark out a possible space for dialogue, rather than obdurate disagreement.