Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity / Edition 1

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"Fat People Don't Go to Heaven!" screamed a headline in the tabloid Globe in November 2000. The story recounted the success of the Weigh Down Workshop, the nation's largest Christian diet corporation and the subject of extensive press coverage from Larry King Live to the New Yorker.
In the United States today, hundreds of thousands of people are making diet a religious duty by enrolling in Christian diet programs and reading Christian diet literature like What Would Jesus Eat? and Fit for God. Written with style and wit, far ranging in its implications, and rich with the stories of real people, Born Again Bodies launches a provocative yet sensitive investigation into Christian fitness and diet culture. Looking closely at both the religious roots of this movement and its present-day incarnations, R. Marie Griffith vividly analyzes Christianity's intricate role in America's obsession with the body, diet, and fitness.

As she traces the underpinning of modern-day beauty and slimness ideals—as well as the bigotry against people who are overweight—Griffith links seemingly disparate groups in American history including seventeenth-century New England Puritans, Progressive Era New Thought adherents, and late-twentieth-century evangelical diet preachers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This wide-ranging examination of body obsession and American religion reads like two separate but excellent books. The first half explores phrenology and New Thought, considering sects and writers prominent during the 19th and early 20th centuries and documenting their attempts to control their bodies in an effort to achieve physical and spiritual perfection. Griffith offers fascinating analyses of the writing and work of dozens of both famous and completely unknown practitioners. For example, Mary Baker Eddy receives ample treatment, then, as an added bonus, Griffith introduces Hattie Harlow, an ordinary woman whose unpublished accounts of her own phrenological initiatives yield insight into the ways Eddy's movement seeped into the popular imagination. The second half of the book is an ethnography of contemporary Christian approaches to weight loss in America. Griffith continues with her fine analyses of books and movements-most notably Gwen Shamblin's Weigh Down-and also includes excerpts from her interviews with authors of Christian weight loss books and participants in Christian diet programs. While Griffith's attitude toward the subjects of the first half of her book is that of a dispassionate academic, she is critical of the perspectives of contemporary Christian weight loss gurus, pointing out their insistence upon seeing fatness in psychological rather than historical, racial or socioeconomic terms. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520242401
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/4/2004
  • Series: California Studies in Food and Culture Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 337
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

R. Marie Griffith is Associate Professor of Religion at Princeton University and author of God's Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission (California, 1997).

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Perilous Body Gospels
A Note on Reading the Images

1. Gluttons for Regimen: Anglo-Protestant Culture and the Reorientation of Appetite
The Diet of Angels: Fasting in Early Modern Anglo-American Protestantism
Gospels of Physick: Medicine, Methodism, and Mortification
Rarefied Flesh: Sexual Regulation, Bodily Pleasure, and Perfection
Phrenology and Somatic Authenticity

2. Sculptors of Our Own Exterior: New Thought Physiques
“Nothing but a Dense Shadow”: The Body as Delusion?
Corresponding Bodies
Female Sexual Pleasure and Mystical Communion:
Reproducing a Civilized Race
Regimens Shaping Bodies to Come

3. Minding the Body: Divergent Paths of New Thought Perfectionism
Living on Air: Gospels of Fasting, Conquest, and Purgation
William Sheldon’s Metaphysical Somatotypes
God in a Body: Gastronomy and Black Power

4. Pray the Weight Away: Shaping Devotional Fitness Culture
Shedd-ing Pounds: Scripture and Devotional Practice in Service to Weight Loss
The Burgeoning Christian Diet Culture
From Empathy to Authority: Shifting Models of Expertise
Religious Devotion to Thinness Outside Mainstream Protestantism

5. “Don’t Eat That”: Denial,
Indulgence, and Exclusion in Christian Diet Culture
Poisoned Bodies, Blemished Souls: Food as Taint and Transgression
Loved on a Smaller Scale: Women,Weight, and the Divine
Lover Above
The Power of Perfection: Purified Bodies and Racialized Worlds

Epilogue: Bodies in Crisis?

Primary Source Bibliography


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