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|Splitting Sides: On Humor in Twenty-First Century American Evangelical Media
|Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
|This dissertation is an exploration of the phenomenon of humor as a tool of religious world-building among American evangelicals in the twenty-first century. As a group defined as much by their independence from strict denominational hierarchies as any other features, American evangelicals nevertheless maintain a strong group identity and commitment to certain boundaries of acceptable behavior and beliefs. I argue that humor—especially humor deployed through media—is essential to this work of boundary maintenance and identity formation among contemporary evangelicals. The dissertation contains five case studies showcasing evangelicals’ use of humor in media ranging from online satirical news to web comics to fish out of water comedy films. In each case study, I demonstrate how humor—as a rhetorical device that highlights the incongruity between humans’ sense of the world as it is and the world as it “should” be—reaffirms boundaries around gender roles, sexual taboos, and race relations. By activating oppositional emotional resonances that reinforce evangelicals’ moral, intellectual, and social separation from nonbelievers on the basis of their beliefs about gender, race, and sexuality, among other theological touchstones, humorous evangelical media constructs a self-policing humor community that wields immense social power. Engaging with humor studies, media studies, and religious studies, this dissertation offers humor as a salient site of analysis for religious groups. It contributes to studies of how American evangelicals use media to forge religious values, identities, and—importantly—consensus among its diffuse community of believers. Finally, it provides the field of humor studies with a new set of case studies on a religious community that uses humor to a variety of social, emotional, and ideological ends. To ensure that adherents buy in to the party line regarding political beliefs, gender roles and sexual practices, and general worldview, American evangelical institutions must offer a product worth consuming. Through the cultivation of a variety of overlapping humor communities that provide consumers with ideological reassurance and emotional validation, the case studies in this dissertation provide just such a product.
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|Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
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