Drawing Lines and Taking Sides: An Examination of Boundary Work among Oppositional Worldviews
Addington, Aislinn R.
University of Kansas
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Christians and atheists have clashed publicly over ideological tensions throughout the history of the United States. Active atheists and evangelical Christians have, and continue to, vie for legitimacy and access to power, often at the expense of those with whom they disagree. This research investigates identity, boundary work, and the relationship to the “other” between and within these two oppositional ideologies. Findings demonstrate how, in a variety of situations and settings, these two groups not only “other” each other, but use their “other” to bolster their own ideological community. The presence of a group with an oppositional worldview allows each community to further define itself, and individuals within each group to define and refine their own identity within the group. The data for this research is made up of 45 interviews and multiple sessions of participant observation. After analyzing the data, four substantive areas emerged as prominent fields for boundary work within and between both groups: Boundaries and Solidarity, Boundaries and Morality, Boundaries and Gender, and Boundaries and Technology. This dissertation contributes to the sociology of boundaries and identity as those concepts are stretched and manipulated to explore the inner workings and “othering” mechanisms of active atheists and evangelical Christians. This research shows how boundaries and identity work together for members of rigid ideological groups, regardless of their specific worldview. While data on both groups offers novel observation and insight, this dissertation also provides desperately needed qualitative data on the distressingly understudied atheist population.
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