McNair/Gateway Scholars Program USC

Nathaniel Gonzalez

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Major and Classification

Sociology, Psychology, and Philosophy

Faculty Mentor

  • Paul Lichterman, Ph.D.

Department

  • College of Letters, Arts, & Sciences

McNair Project

Negotiating Boundaries at a Secular University: Religious Pluralism and the Evangelical Christian Identity

Abstract
In the past 20 years there has been a dramatic change in the face of religion in the United States. Although still a Christian nation, more people select "none" as their religious affiliation, or ascribe to non-denominational or are "just Christian" than in 1990. This trend along with the influx of different religious practices in the United States that came from a growth in immigration and globalization, have led Americans to necessarily devise methods of relating to people of different religious backgrounds. At a secular university campus, where the expectation of religious equality is institutionally enforced, a norm of civility to individual religious affiliation is an established norm. In prior studies, religious pluralism was seen to encourage Evangelical Christians to create a subculture through which they differentiate themselves from society, becoming embattled with all non-Christians. This study investigates what this boundary negotiation looks like at a secular university in southern California, where evangelical students mediate between the norm of religious equality present in the academic environment, and the norm of religious exclusivism inherent in their religious tradition. Using ethnography with a framework of symbolic boundaries, the researcher observed a chapter of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship over a six-month period. Observations suggest that the culture of pluralism leads these evangelical students to employ inclusive language when considering other students, creating weaker group boundaries. In contrast to previous findings, evangelicals at this secular university do not create a strong subcultural identity, but rather use inclusive or exclusive language depending on space, time, and the audience present.