Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Ira Chernus

Second Advisor

Gregory Johnson

Third Advisor

Deborah Whitehead


This M.A. thesis examines the importance of conflict in American religious pluralism utilizing the example of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and the group's engagement with nonmembers, especially considering media. I argue for the existence of a category of religion I call "agonistic religion" in which religious groups relate and engage with one another, or to nonmembers, through contrast and conflict rather than cooperation. To locate WBC within this agonistic religion, I focus on the church's theology, preaching style, and media usage, all of which act to conflict with those outside of WBC. In response, the larger nonmember community counters WBC through broader media which promote a specific portrayal of what religion is, as well as draw on emotion in WBC coverage to bind the nonmember community against the church. In this paper I suggest certain relationships exist, endure, and persist within American religious pluralism through cyclical emotional engagement and conflict.

Included in

Religion Commons