Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Sociology

First Advisor

Amy McDowell

Second Advisor

John Sonnett

Third Advisor

Minjoo Oh


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



Evangelical Christianity occupies a dominant position in American culture and politics. This thesis extends previous research on evangelicalism in America by identifying how evangelicals collectively construct their distinction and uniqueness in small group settings. By conducting an ethnography of bible study meetings organized by an evangelical church in North Mississippi, Mercy Church, I examine how church participants collectively differentiate themselves from the rest of the world. Rather than imagining themselves at odds with a single, monolithic Other, this study shows that evangelical identity is formed and crystallized through small battles with numerous outsiders, both Christian and non-Christian. Specifically, I find that evangelicals at Mercy Church not only differentiate themselves from groups that they feel are a threat to their faith, but also groups that they hope to bring to salvation. The first and second findings chapters of my thesis show that non-Christians are described as belonging to one of two distinct out-groups: what I call “the unsaveable” and “the unsaved.” At Mercy Church, the unsaveable are people who are politically or socially liberal and should be eschewed; the unsaved are global Others who are not like them but are in need of the gospel. The third findings chapter shows how evangelicals at Mercy Church come to see themselves as good Christians by pointing out who does Christianity wrong and what is not a Christian thing to do. By examining how evangelicals construct a collective identity in small group settings, my thesis extends previous work on the politics of evangelical identity. However, unlike previous research, my study shows that the battle lines evangelicals draw between them and ‘everybody else’ are not uniform. My findings suggest that evangelicals may be thriving in the US because they envision and engage a multitude of groups that are seldom neatly defined.



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