Sophie Bjork-James, “The Divine Institution: White Evangelicalism’s Politics of the Family” (Rutgers UP, 2021)

The Divine Institution: White Evangelicalism’s Politics of the Family (Rutgers University Press, 2021) provides an account of how a theology of the family came to dominate a white evangelical tradition in the post-civil rights movement United States, providing a theological corollary to Religious Right politics. This tradition inherently enforces racial inequality in that it draws moral, religious, and political attention away from problems of racial and economic structural oppression, explaining all social problems as a failure of the individual to achieve the strong gender and sexual identities that ground the nuclear family. The consequences of this theology are both personal suffering for individuals who cannot measure up to prescribed gender and sexual roles, and political support for conservative government policies. Exposure to experiences that undermine the idea that an emphasis on the family is the solution to all social problems is causing a younger generation of white evangelicals to shift away from this narrow theological emphasis and toward a more social justice-oriented theology. The material and political effects of this shift remain to be seen.

Sophie Bjork-James is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University. She has over ten years of experience researching both the US based Religious Right and the white nationalist movements.

She is the author of The Divine Institution: White Evangelicalism’s Politics of the Family (Rutgers 2021, winner of the the Anne Bolin & Gil Herdt Book Prize from the Human Sexuality and Anthropology Interest Group (HSAIG)) and the co-editor of Beyond Populism: Angry Politics and the Twilight of Neoliberalism (2020). Her work has appeared recently in American Anthropologist, Oxford Bibliographies, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Feminist Anthropology, and Transforming Anthropology. She has been interviewed on the NBC Nightly News, NPR’s All Things Considered, BBC Radio 4’s Today, and in the New York Times. She has published op-eds in the LA Times, Religious Dispatches, and the Conversation among othersShe is a senior fellow with the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right and a fellow with the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism and a board member for the Society for the Anthropology of Religion.

Joseph Gaines can be reached at

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