“…are diverse groups of Americans defining and enacting courage in a tumultuous period, and with what consequences for Christianity and broader society? ”
Natural disasters, immigration, climate change, and terrorism are creating uncertainty about the future for many Americans. Industries profit from exacerbating that anxiety, and fear shapes decision-making in personal lives, churches, and politics, with widespread consequences. Courage also has a long history in both the church and American society as a virtue to be cultivated, but social scientific research on courage is very limited. How are Americans drawing on religious and secular discourses and practices to define and cultivate courage in a tumultuous period, and with what consequences for Christianity and broader society? Using ethnography, content analysis, interviews, and surveys, this project examines three groups representing diverse responses to fear: change-seeking (progressive Christian activists), withdrawal (conservative Christian survivalists), and acceptance (spiritual-but-not-religious music fans). Each group mobilizes different discourses to create definitions of courage and uses varying practices (such as marching, shooting, or dancing) to construct identities as courageous moral selves. These varying notions of courage have different impacts on the church and American society—some dividing, others uniting. This research contributes to sociological theories of culture and morality and will help church leaders evaluate practices of Christian formation and outreach in light of dominant responses to fear and constructions of courage.