Accepted paper:

Evangelical childhoods, freedom and modernity


Anna Strhan (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the formation of children in two evangelical churches in London to address both the norms of autonomy and obedience associated with adults’ hopes for these children, and how these children’s participation within evangelicalism shapes their everyday senses of freedom and agency.

Paper long abstract:

Conceptualizations of 'childhood', 'education' and 'adulthood' are frequently predicated on emancipatory Enlightenment ideals, in which what it is to be an adult and what it is to be educated are held to entail the development of individual autonomy and self-determination. This has often been perceived as somehow at odds with a desire for submission in religious life, and heated public debates about children's involvement and non-involvement in religion - within educational and other spaces - often invoke fears that 'religion' threatens the developing independence and freedom of the child. In this paper, I draw on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with two evangelical churches and schools linked with them in London to address experiences of freedom and constraint in the lives of children, in these spaces of church and school and in their everyday London lives. I describe how adults within these churches seek to shape children as religious subjects, and consider both how this desired formation reveals particular norms of submission and freedom, and how these relate to broader cultural desires for autonomy. Through then addressing how children learn to think of particular times and spaces as their 'own', I explore how their participation in evangelicalism shapes their practical senses of freedom and agency, and the extent to which this is bound up with an ethic of obedience.

panel P36
What is (religious) Enlightenment? Kant, freedom and obedience in religion today