American Evangelical Gender Ideology and Intimate Partner Violence

Master's Thesis


In this paper, I use cultural and feminist theory to examine the discourse of two evangelical Christian organizations whose missions are to promote different gender ideologies. I focus specifically on how intimate partner violence (IPV), or ‘abuse,’ as both of them call it, functions symbolically for each. I find that a similar underlying cultural code that reflects evangelical subcultural identity (Smith 1998) explains how both organizations substantiate their claims. However, even though they rely on the same cultural code, they perform substantively different gender ideologies, giving rise to different views on abuse. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), the conservative group, articulates a gender ideology of male ‘headship’ and wifely submission. CBMW’s discussion of abuse draws a strong boundary against the gender ideology promoted by the rival evangelical feminist organization and reasserts the rightness of the headship doctrine, in the context of a stated concern with moral decay in American society, evidenced by changes in gender roles. Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), the evangelical feminist group, articulates a gender ideology of mutual submission in marriage. CBE’s discussion of abuse draws a boundary against perceived abusive authority in marital relationships, in the context of a stated concern with gender justice. For CBMW, a defense of the headship ideology is paramount, while for CBE, an articulated concern with the practical is paramount. I argue that such different performances of gender ideology stem from the same underlying cultural code, partly because of the socio-religious characteristics of evangelical subcultural identity (Smith 1998). But, more importantly, this creative use of a cultural code is explained by interactional dynamics that exist within the discourse of the two organizations. By applying the theoretical contributions of the culture-in-interaction perspective (Eliasoph & Lichterman 2003) to the study of discourse, as well as integrating insights from Judith Butler’s (1990/1999, 1993) discussion of the performativity of gender, we can better understand the meaning made of abuse by these organizations.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-12092010-142508

Author Meredith Chase Whitnah
Advisor Mary Ellen Konieczny
Contributor Mary Ellen Konieczny, Committee Chair
Contributor David Sikkink, Committee Member
Contributor Christian Smith, Committee Member
Degree Level Master's Thesis
Degree Discipline Sociology
Degree Name Master of Arts
Defense Date
  • 2010-10-13

Submission Date 2010-12-09
  • United States of America

  • religion

  • gender

  • intimate partner violence

  • culture

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units

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