The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 4: Hipsters in the Kingdom

In contrast to the “coolness” of being “in the world,” Catalyst also nurtures the “hipness” of a distinct subculture, which it sees as equally important to its mission.  Smith, who argues that evangelicalism is “the strongest of the major Christian traditions in the United States today,” attributes this vitality to what he calls their “subcultural identity.”[33]  In the wake of secularization theory’s demise, Smith articulated a “subcultural identity” theory of religious vitality through eight propositions:
1) human needs for meaning are socially met,
2) group identity is necessarily in distinction,
3) religious adaption is not necessarily accommodation,
4) individual choice can strengthen religious identity,
5) reference groups, not society en mass, establish group and individual meaning,
6) modern pluralism promotes formation of strong subcultures,
7) intergroup conflict typically strengthens group identity and
8) modernity can intensify the felt needs that make religion appealing.[34]  
Through the lens of this theory, evangelicals are thriving because they, better than other Christian groups, “possess and employ the cultural tools needed to create both clear distinction from and significant engagement and tension with other relevant outgroups, short of becoming genuinely countercultural.”[35] 
Catalyst’s participation in the nurturing of a “subcultural identity” can be seen in several ways.  First, it was evident even in things such as a shared fashion sense, which was a frequently noted observation in the twittersphere.  At least 21 mentioned plaid, 20 about glasses and 15 including the word “fashion”.  Some examples include:
@heretolead Early observations show less V-necks and more "Goodwill" plaid shirts. Also, scarves are big with the cool kids. #CAT10
@awdeaton: At #cat10 with @realmikelandrum. Its pretty awesome. All this plaid everyone is wearing is crazy. Christians know how to catch a trend
@JR_Horn:  #Cat10 dress code= designer jeans, stripped button up, quintessential black frame glasses me=Sturgis bike week T #stickoutlikeasorethumb
@jessephillips (Catalyst Staff): DISCLAIMER: Catalyst is not responsible for: stained jeans, tussled hair, or bruised egos. (&; most of u already have the first two) #CAT10
@abigailiam: plaid has def become the new christian dude chic. #cat10
@curly_fry: I counted 33 guys at #cat10 wearing the exact same outfit (plaid shirt, toms, skinny jeans, tobbogan). But I'm pretty sure there's more.
@claytonbell: I couldn't have been more right about plaid being the new graphic tee. Don't worry, fauxhawk stock is still performing strongly #cat10
@brianmmayfield: If u r @ #Cat10 would love 2 connect. I'll stand in lobby tomorrow AM in skinny jeans, girls shoes & a plaid shirt. Oh, wait a minute......
@Jesusheadbangs: #CAT10 there are more thick rim glasses than a star trek convention
In particular, the popularity of “Goodwill" plaid shirts serves as a marker of a subgroup of hipsters that Steven Kandell calls the “Poorgeoisie”.[36]  McCracken links the term to the “longtime popular aesthetic for rich hipsters [that] involves looking poor and of the working class.”[37]  As the above suggests, not only do Catalyst attendees have a distinct subcultural fashion, but they are highly self-aware regarding it.  Even Zondervan, the Christian publishing giant, saw it coming, and used a mascot with thick-rimmed glasses and a faux-hawk to market their new online social networking platform for churches called The City.  

Second, Catalyst fostered “subcultural identity” by abundant rhetoric about the need for Christians to engage in world-changing activity.  By their very nature, calls to “change the world” assume a distinction between "the world" and “us.” The title of the Catalyst East 2010 conference was “The Tension is Good,” speaking to the desired position that Catalyst wants to affirm as the church’s place in the world – between God and culture.  How this was manifest will be explored in the following post.

[33] Smith (1998) 20.
[34] Smith (1998) 89-119. 
[35] Smith (1998) 118-9.  One of these “cultural tools” is what sociologists Greil and Rudy call “ideological encapsulation” which can be used to “neutralize any possible reality-upsetting consequences of” interactions with outsiders.  Arthur Griel and David Rudy, “Social Cocoons: Encapsulation and Identity Transformation Organizations”  (Sociological Inquiry 54: 260-78, 1984) 267.
[36] Steven Kandell,  “How Looking Poor Became the New Status Symbol,” (Details, May 2009)
[37] McCracken 68.

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