11. A Hand Outstretched in Darkness: Evangelical Encounters with Art
Philip Francis [+]
University of Maine
This essay will draw upon my ethnographic work on American evangelicals who left the fold through the intervention of the arts (a five year study, with hundreds of participants). I will focus on the metaphorical wall that conservative evangelical communities construct between themselves and the outside world, in large part to keep certain things, oftentimes works of art, out of sight. To quote one of my participants, a Bob Jones University alumnus: “I can tell you that there were cracks in the wall between my evangelical world and the outside world. And no matter how quickly the pastors, parents and elders of our community worked to patch them up […] one could look through the holes, taking in that other, strange world through the eyes[…] This is how I came across the artists whose work connected me to the outside world, who drew me into that world, and who changed the course of my life.” I will make arguments about the role of aesthetic experience in relation to this wall, addressing 1) what it was like to view the arts through the wall 2) In what ways the arts created sight lines over and through the wall; 3) how the arts tore down the wall.