My name is Kristin Rawls, and, yes, I am a preacher’s daughter. I’m in my early 30s, and I was raised in an unusual blend of Protestant traditions. The preacher (my dad) grew up in the Southern Baptist church, got “saved” during the Pentecostal-influenced “Jesus movement” of the 1970s and ultimately settled in a mainline (not fundamentalist) tradition. My family practiced a confusing mix of them all. The result? I became pretty cynical about the whole thing.
This blog series is named after blueswoman Michelle Malone’s song, “Preacher’s Daughter” (transcript here):
As we know, Christianity and other historically patriarchal religions often conflict with feminist perspectives. Notwithstanding this traditional anti-feminism and that of the Christian Right, feminist discussions about faith are too often dominated by the dogmatism of radical feminists like Mary Daly.
Since I love thinking and writing about music, I thought it would be a great jumping-off point for juxtaposing my third wave feminism with discussions about spirituality. I will mostly cover Christian spirituality and agnosticism because these are what I know best, and I’m not inclined to venture prominently into a tradition that isn’t mine.
To give you a sense of what this series will look like from day to day, here’s a small sampling of topics I’m hoping to cover over the next eight weeks, in no particular order:
- Americana artist Gillian Welch is part of a genre that is deeply informed by a masculine, conservative Christian religious tradition. With partner David Rawlings, Welch has a history of writing sad songs that incorporate the Baptist-influenced fire-and-brimstone ideology that permeates her genre. Her new album, The Harrow and the Harvest, is a spectacularly bleak take on Christian spirituality, and I’ll think about what that means from a feminist perspective.
- Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley often writes songs that are prefaced, as her song title goes, on “The Absence of God.” That song, along with “More Adventurous,” bring a unique take on agnosticism to bear on feminism. I’ll think about the kind of spiritual practice that seems to arise from this sort of spirituality.
- Contemporary Christian Music (a genre unto itself called CCM) is mostly terrible. But the music of some of its biggest stars, like MercyMe and Laura Story, provides insight into the evangelical Christian understanding of a male god. I hope to deconstruct this male conception of god and critique the essentialist assumptions it makes about gender.
- John Darnielle, the man behind The Mountain Goats, identifies as a feminist, and often writes music influenced by his Catholic roots. This music is overwhelmingly narrated by a male character who either (1) hates his female partner or (2) desires a perfect, unattainable female partner as a means of spiritual release or affirmation. So, Darnielle identifies as a feminist, but what do his lyrics say about women? And what is the function of faith?
I’ll be singling out some musicians that I love, and some that I don’t love, for critique, praise, interpretation or some variation on these. I also hope to work one or two artist Q&As into the mix at some point.
Here are a few things to know about me before we get started:
I am a secular person who writes from a secular perspective. It’s not that I’m against religion per se, but I usually refer to myself as an agnostic. I sometimes use “Christian agnostic.” Once in a while, I even call myself a Christian. It’s not that my beliefs coincide with what most understand as Christianity, but I’m too stubborn to cede exclusive rights to the word to the Christian Right. Plus, I think I’ll always be culturally Christian in the sense that I find the stories and images in the Bible meaningful and compelling.
I really love music. It sounds trite because I am not actually a musician, and doesn’t everyone love music? I’m not exceptional in this way, but I am a devoted fan to almost everything. Hailing from the Southeast, I especially love American roots music: blues, Americana, alt country, roots rock, even bluegrass. This music will probably feature prominently, though I plan to include a broad range of genres, including electronica, rap, pop, soul and others.
I’m no expert in either music or religion, but I’m really excited to be here over the next eight weeks. I think this will be fun, and I hope you enjoy the series!