How History Shaped Evangelical Womanhood
A conversation with Sara Moslener, scholar of religion, gender, and racial discrimination.
Today over on In Polite Company I share a conversation with Sara Moslener, a lecturer at Central Michigan University, where she teaches the history of religion and racial discrimination in the United States. Moslener is also the author of Virgin Nation: Sexual Purity and American Adolescence. Her current research, The After Purity Project, draws upon 65 interviews with people who’ve grown up and out of evangelical purity culture. Many of these stories will soon appear in her second book, After Purity: How White Christian Nationalism Exploits Race, Sex, and Religion.
I first spoke to Moslener years ago, when writing a feature for Cosmopolitan. We talked recently as I was sorting through how to place the stories in my upcoming book, Disobedient Women, in historical context. She made plenty of book recommendations, which I’ll share too.
This interview has been condensed.
Sara Moslener, Central Michigan University, author of Virgin Nation, researcher behind The After Purity Project
Sarah Stankorb: I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to understand links and origins of various threads within evangelicalism. When I think about purity culture, I immediately consider Victorianism. That’s way back. How do the two connect?
SM: The argument I’m going to share is based on Gail Biederman’s book Manliness and Civilization. She basically demonstrates the formation of Victorian gender roles and the cult of true womanhood — the Four Virtues, of which purity is one. What she argues is the true woman ideal was in response to the creation and the growth of the middle class in the 19th century. So, this is a class-based argument that she makes, and it is one that becomes about gender and about race.
In the 19th century, capitalism was growing because there was an enslaved workforce, which means white people were getting wealthy. White families were moving into the middle class and starting to be able to…