Although cultural studies is neither homogenously formed nor consensually defined, it may be seen as an interdisciplinary “theoretical-political project” (Beverly 2004, p. 17) that is, an engaged academic and political movement that seeks to democratize culture (those “persistent forms or patterns of thought” [Chaney 1994, p. 2] shared by a given group’s members) and to interrogate all cultural productions (that is, cultural practices, operations, and formations). At its best, the movement deploys a convergence of research methodologies (not a single or unified methodological prism) to interrogate the valorization of culture, to demystify the politics of representation, to foster practices of self-reflexive inquiry, and to promote actively a radical progressive cultural politics. In interrogating the valorization of culture, the movement considers all cultures as important, though it especially seeks to give attention to a given society’s everyday and ordinary cultural practices (like the practices of eating or offering hospitality), cultural operations (like the varying types of kinship systems that operate in different societies), and cultural formations (like the technological innovations of urban hip-hop youth or the sophisticated acrobatics of the Brazilian martial arts dance-form known as Capoeira). That is, the cultural studies movement does not support the high-low culture valorization once advocated by Matthew Arnold but exposes the discursive processes of valorization that control what counts as culture. Thus, cultural studies would be as observant of the appliqué quiltmaking of the unlettered Harriet Powers in the nineteenth century as it would be of the art deco style of the Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas. In demystifiying the politics of representation, the movement asks: “who has the power to produce authorised representations of the world?” (Söderström 2005, p. 13). In fostering practices of self-reflexive inquiry, the movement examines the wider cultural currents in which all engagement with cultures takes place, including cultural studies’ own practices. Thus, serious attention is given to the role of contextuality in informing one’s gaze on a given culture. How one reads or understands a culture is not a natural or universal operation (as if all persons would view that culture in the same way) but largely controlled by one’s own contextual factors, including one’s conception of knowledge, which often may go unnoticed or unexposed until attention is placed on the ideological commitments, discursive construals, and power dynamics of that conception. In actively promoting a radical progressive cultural politics, moreover, this movement takes an ethical stance beyond simply analyzing culture. That is, the movement also intervenes through the ongoing production of countercultural discourses that challenge each new instantiation of a given culture’s domination and power over all others.

Cultural Studies in the Anglophone World.

In the Anglophone world, cultural studies began as a populist movement that “grew out of curricular innovations introduced into post-secondary educational programs for non-elite students taking degree courses outside Britain’s ancient…regional universities” in the late 1940s (Sprinkler 1997, p. 385). In that iteration, cultural studies commenced as a type of “oppositional politics” among the British working-class, with a greater focus on the resistance potential of vernacular cultures as opposed to traditionally defined elite culture, with a greater concern for culture in and of itself (as with the New Left of Western Marxism) than with a mechanistic view of culture as simply a reflection of the material forces of production (as with the vulgar Marxism of the Soviet Marxists), and with a greater interest in the examination of the ideological production of texts or genres or other artifacts within a concrete political economy than in formalist (stylistic or aesthetic) analysis of those texts (Sprinkler, pp. 386–390). That beginning was arguably cultural studies’ culturalist or sociology of culture phase—because its leaders (Raymond Williams, Edward P. Thompson, and Richard Hoggart) all drew upon Weber, Marx, and Mannheim, among others (Wolff 1999, p. 501), to show that working class persons should be considered as culture producers or agents and not simply mass culture consumers. This was soon followed by its French theory phase—when cultural studies’ Birmingham Centre turned to antihumanistic French thinkers like Althusser among others to show the wider ideological forces (like educational and ecclesiastical systems as opposed to economic conditions) that a priori both regulate the conditions of possibility for human cultural operations and shape the conditions of possibility for human subjectivity. The second phase was later followed by a third one, cultural studies’ radical plurality and internationalization phase—when cultural studies (a la Antonio Gramsci) once more acknowledged that self-determining human subjects could challenge a seemingly common-sensical and prevalent set of conditions and, relatedly, when cultural studies began to consider the great diversity of human identities along racial/ethnic, gender, and geopolitical lines as sites for the examination of cultures.

In truth, though, it is now generally acknowledged that “the Brits don’t own cultural studies” (Mellor 1992, p. 664). That is, each variation of cultural studies in the Anglophone world has to be weighed in the light of specific historical and contemporary material conditions operating for each, whether one considers within the United States, for example, the black feminist cultural criticism of bell hooks, the Chicano cultural studies of José David Saldívar, or the media cultural criticism of Douglas Kellner. Still, whether in Britain, the United States, or elsewhere in the Anglophone world, cultural studies has developed into a burgeoning field. It has produced mega-anthologies and enjoyed institutional (and therefore, even disciplinary) success, though, admittedly, such success at times, especially in parts of the United States, seems to have resulted in a loss of the movement’s initial interests in diffusing traditional disciplinary boundaries and in developing “alternative cultural productions” (Sprinkler, pp. 393–394).

Cultural Studies in “Latin America.”

Outside of the Anglophone world, for example, in what is (often uncritically) called “Latin America,” the evolution of cultural studies had a different genealogy (one that actually predates the Birmingham and US varieties) and a different set of material conditions altogether.

First, what may be called the democratic project of cultural studies existed there initially free of the label “Latin America” (which, as Walter D. Mignolo has noted, is a geopolitical vestige of Europe’s colonization of lands now subsumed in that spatial designation) and again initially free of any connection with the Birmingham School of cultural studies (Mignolo 2005, pp. x–xx; Trigo 2004, p. 5). From the conquest on, “there never was any question that culture mattered,” as questions in this region were often raised about the West’s failure to value indigenous cultures, about the impact of cultural imperialism and colonial languages, and about the relationship between culture and resistance to Western hegemony (McClennen 2011a, pp. 191–192). Accordingly, when cultural studies began to develop theoretically in this region, it did so primarily by focusing on the work of its own intellectuals (McClennen 2011a, p. 191), for example:

  • ■ the writing of José Carlos Mariátegui, who formed the Socialist Party in Peru and gave shape to the “sociopolitical essayistic tradition of Peru” (Ríos 2004, p. 23);
  • ■ the transculturation theory of Fernando Ortiz, the Cuban essayist who argued that cultural contact, however violent, always results in both loss and gain and never simply in a unilateral or unidirectional imposition of the dominant culture on the dominated one (Ríos p. 24; Weinberg 2012, p. 331);
  • ■ the work of Roberto Fernández Retamar, another Cuban essayist whose countercultural and ironic inversion of Shakespeare’s Caliban, an enslaved character in The Tempest, makes the character a positive literary symbol for the region, not a vilified figure who perpetuates a colonialist “hierarchy of values” (Retamar 1989; Ríos p. 25; Matibag 1991, p. 5);
  • ■ and the writings of Antonio Cornejo Polar, a Peruvian cultural critic whose theory of heterogeneity proposes that the different form or system in which literature is produced (with its technology of alphabetic writing) compared to oral cultures already perpetuates falsely the view that the former is better than the latter because the former is historically tied to the conquest, with letters being the “sign of the difference between the colonizer and the colonized.” (Tarica 2012, p. 175)

During the 1960s and 1970s, moreover, the region also offered to the wider world its own cultural studies critical practices through, for example:

  • ■ the critique of the “banking” concept of teaching (the view that teachers deposit knowledge into students) in Brazilian Paulo Freire’s Pedagogia do oprimido (Pedagogy of the Oppressed) (Freire 1973; McClennen 2011a, p. 191; Trigo p. 7);
  • ■ the “theology of liberation” of Rubem Alves, Gustavo Gutiérrez, José Míguez Bonino, and the Boff brothers (Ríos, p. 27);
  • ■ the critique of the cultural imperialism implicit in Disney comic representations as argued by Chilean Ariel Dorfman in Para leer al Pato Donald (How to Read Donald Duck);
  • ■ the political critique of nueva canción, or the new song movement, which was led by Violeta Para, Víctor Jara, and Mercedes Sosa and which featured a type of underground music that stood at odds with fascist militias such as the one led by Augusto Pinochet of Chile (McClennen 2011b, p. 139);
  • ■ the literary boom that included Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (One HundredYears of Solitude) (Irwin and Szurmuk 2012, p. 3);
  • ■ or the representation of history through the witness narratives known as testimonios (as in, for example, Miguel Barnet’s Biografia de un cimarrón [Autobiography of a Runaway Slave]; Poblete 2012, pp. 199–200).

Second, even if cultural studies in the region today (as illustrated by the proliferation of cultural studies journals and anthologies along with several cultural studies graduate programs in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia) is cross-fertilized by a type of pan-cultural cultural studies, postnational cultural studies in the region is likely an effect of the rise of the ideology of neoliberalism (or global capitalism), which gives little or no attention to the distinctive interests of national states and “civic subjects” within those states in the interests of promoting global markets (McClennen 2011a, pp. 192–194; Irwin and Szurmuk, pp. 4–8).

Cultural Studies and Other Theoretical Perspectives.

Still, whether in the Anglophone world or elsewhere, cultural studies intellectual workers—like those in gender studies, subaltern studies, postcolonial studies, and intersectionality theory—are concerned with operations of power, that is, with the ways in which a critique of culture exposes unequal relations of power. Like gender studies, cultural studies argues that gender is neither a natural nor fixed identification category. Nor is it “linked to the biological differences that [typically] distinguish men from women” (Ricalde 2012, p. 153). Rather, gender is a culturally constructed script, role, or set of regulatory practices that helps to identify a given society’s hegemonic norms about material bodies (Ricalde, p. 153). Examining gender in cultures then exposes the submerged histories of those who do not fit such norms.

Like subaltern studies, cultural studies also takes stock in Gramscian concepts such as “hegemony” (or “ideological dominance” [Kellner 1995, p. 31]) and the “subaltern class” (“a name for the general attribute of subordination…whether this is expressed in terms of class, caste, age, gender and office, or in any other way” [Guha 1988, p. 35]) to show the relationship between power and representation. The disciplinary protocols of professional societies, hegemonic traditions of historiography, institutional curricular constraints, lines of logic (for example, linear binary logic as opposed to relational logic), and modes of representation (whether history is presented as written or oral, for example) can all foster a climate in which submerged voices are ignored, silenced, or negated.

Like postcolonial studies, cultural studies critiques the on-going legacies of coloniality (“the logic of domination”) but without viewing the encounter between cultures simplistically as the imposition of the dominant culture onto another (Mignolo, p. 7; Rabasa 2012, p. 254). The production of knowledge for cultural studies, then, is never separated from wider historical legacies that foster domination, exploitation, and cultural flow (that is, cultural interconnections).

Like intersectionality theory, cultural studies provides an optic or prism for understanding the complexity of social identity or identification and the power differentials (or structures of inequality) associated with subject formations (McCall 2005, p. 1771). Cultural studies does not advocate a simplistic liberal-pluralist (additive-linear) model of social identity (or identification), as if social identity were determined solely by a single subject formation variable such as race, class, or gender, all of which are themselves “socially constructed categories of social experience” in association with embodied experiences (Adams et al. 2000, p. 2). In fact, considerations of a person’s social identity in terms of only one of these analytical factors entails the homogenization of social identity, as if a person’s humanity were limited to only one so-called essentialist subject formation. Such considerations also lock social identity into simplistic dichotomies that deny either heterogeneity or variation within an aggregate human grouping and obscure the power differentials that exist within a human grouping. Two African Americans, one classified as dis/abled and the other as abled, for example, are both similar yet different because the “ideology of ability” negatively targets the one classified as dis/abled (Siebers 2008, p. 7). Two women, one identified as an Anglo-American and another as an Asian American from a Southeast Asian lineage, are both similar yet different because the ideology of “whiteness” privileges the Anglo-American woman. Cultural studies, then, provides a prism for seeing more clearly the ways in which the members of a specific target group (a group affected by oppression) may be affected differently because its members are also differently aligned to multiple other subject formations that place the members in dominant or targeted positions with respect to power and access (Adams et al., pp. 2–3).

The Conjunction between Cultural Studies and Biblical Studies.

Given these general indices of cultural studies, the conjunction between cultural studies and Western biblical studies may be seen both in the light of the history of that conjunction and in the light of some of the key emphases of that conjunction with respect to the cultural studies goal of exposing operations of power. In the West, the conjunction between cultural studies and biblical studies occurred only after other methodological prisms had gained prominence in biblical studies. That is, historical criticism, veritably a “family of [historical] approaches,” was the first major methodological optic used in Western biblical studies from its postenlightenment emergence until the mid-1970s (Meeks 2005, p. 159). Later, both literary criticism and sociocultural criticism gained prominence in biblical studies from the mid-1970s to the 1990s. From the 1990s to the present, however, cultural studies has come into prominence within the biblical studies field largely because the field has witnessed the influx of a wide variety of voices, including non-Western, nonmale, and nonheterogendered voices, and the explosion and acceptance of a bewildering collection of methodological optics from wider contemporary currents (Segovia 2008, pp. 25–28). At its best, however, the conjunction is not controlled by those who are otherwise labeled as biblical studies professionals. Instead, works under this conjunction defy disciplinary boundaries, with the common affinity being the desire to name the ideological commitments and power dynamics that “underwrite and legitimate the social life of scripture” (Bielo 2006a, p. 7).

Locating Operations of Power in Texts and Interpreters.

Given such a conjunction, intellectual workers who share the aforementioned affinity deploy a cultural studies perspective to expose or engage operations of power in three key areas (Liew 2011, p. 7). First, cultural studies locates operations of power in the cultural contexts of biblical traditions and of biblical interpreters. In part, a focus on contextualization highlights how biblical writers, many of whom were colonized by empires, struggled against hegemony. Examinations of a biblical tradition’s counterdiscursive (or alternative) myths, syntax, or cosmologies, for example, reveal the struggles of colonized groups against imperial and patriarchal forces as well as the negotiated use of imperial strategies and a patriarchal political economy by the colonized themselves (Portier-Young 2011, p. 13; Bailey et al. 2009, p. 25).

In part, though, a focus on contextualization also highlights the power plays of interpreters who assume their values to be biblical or their methodological prisms to be disinterested (Bailey et al., p. 25). Accordingly, even if US “family values” organizations assert that their values are drawn from the Bible, in truth, such organizations may actually presuppose a modern or postmodern nuclear family, which stands strikingly at odds with a wide variety of family/marriage constitutions in the biblical literature (Petersen 2005, pp. 5–23). That is, in Genesis alone, notions of family are expansive, ranging from “patrilineal endogamy” (marriage between near relatives) to polycoity (male “sexual access to more than one female”) to “sororal polygyny” (marriage between one person and two siblings), and hardly ideal and acceptable for most of those espousing the notion of biblical family values (Petersen, pp. 16–17). To say that an organization reflects biblical family values, then, could simply be a rhetorical practice designed to sanction a particular construal of “family values.” In the United States, for example, adherents of traditional “family values” ideologically construct a family rhetoric (ideas about a family) in pursuit of their own political agendas without demystifying their assumptions of what constitutes a family (Collins 1998, pp. 62–82). Inherent in their constructions, thus, is a belief that their construals of this “imagined community” are just natural, not actually construals at all (Collins, pp. 62–82; Anderson 2006). As Elizabeth Bounds (1996, pp. 111–126) has noted, though, “family” is “a highly contested ideological concept.”

Likewise, even if some interpreters view their methodological prisms as free from wider cultural currents, they are not. There is no “Holy Grail” of methodological inquiry free of culture (Kellner, p. 24). All methods are “culturally contextualized” (Segovia 2008, p. 24). Form criticism depends heavily on Hermann Gunkel’s importation of the Brothers Grimm German folk collection. Narrative criticism is firmly rooted in humanistic thinking and in moral psychology (Frow 1986, p. 228). Reader-response criticism in the United States draws heavily on the ideas of (US) American individualism (Mailloux 1989, pp. 51–52). Wolfgang Iser’s reader-response theory, in association with the Constance School of Aesthetic Reception, depends heavily on phenomenology (Iser 1974). Sociocultural criticism, which arose hard on the heels of the civil rights era and other liberation movements that emphasized social structures of oppression and enhanced a more self-reflective consciousness, draws heavily from the social sciences and anthropology (Horsley 1994, p. 2). Thus, all “rituals of reception” regarding the Bible—from traditions of what the Bible is (and thus the authority it has) to traditions of hermeneutical strategies for reading the Bible to deployments of the Bible as “cultural capital” in arguments—are already grounded in “culturally ordered” contexts (Bielo 2006a, pp. 5–7).

Interrogating Operations of Power in the Cultural Products of Biblical Discourse.

Second, cultural studies interrogates operations of power in the cultural productions of biblical discourse such as canons, manuscript traditions, translations, biblical maps, family Bibles, or niche Bibles. Ascendant Christian canons are not simply lists of authoritative texts. Wrought in the fires of political contestation, they reveal—as do the biblical manuscript traditions—the norms and values of the political winners in the struggles between the early proto-orthodox Christians and their opponents (Ehrman 2005, pp. 170–173). The same ascendant canons, when subsequently imposed on non-Christian traditions, also are instruments of cultural imperialism. Likewise, translations are not innocent representations of some original truth. As Musa Dube has shown, power dynamics are involved. For example, in the Setswana translation, the word Badimo (originally a neuter word for ancestral intermediaries) is used to translate the Greek word for “demons,” thus both changing the gender of the expression and viewing Badimo in a pejorative manner (Dube 2011, p. 226). Biblical maps are not mirrors. They confer importance through what they include or exclude. Ideological commitments are revealed, for example, when biblical atlases omit the “region south of Palestine and Egypt” or when they designate biblical lands as “the Near East” or “the Middle East,” a spatiality reflecting a European bias” (Martin 1989, pp. 105–135; Sadler 2007, p. 25). The “Family Bibles” published by the British and Foreign Bible Society in the early nineteenth century were not simply reproductions of the King James Bible. Rather, in bracketing certain parts of that version as suitable only for the assumed “Masters of the family,” that is, apart from women, children, and servants, such Bibles exposed its editors’ patriarchal and patently paternalistic ideological commitments (Carpenter 2003, pp. 33–47). Niche Bibles—from the American Bible’s Society’s Good News Bible and Taylor’s The Living Bible (actually a paraphrase) to the current proliferation of Biblezines (Becoming, Explore, Refuel, Blossom, Revolve, Magnify, Align, and Redefine), moreover, do not simply include biblical material (Beal 2011 , pp. 14–16, 41–42). Driven by market research, new formatting and print technology, conservative evangelical ideology, and a visual canon of physical beauty that favors mostly white teenage girls, the supplemental material of Revolve, for example, shapes thought and constructs ideals of a cultural norm (Beal, p. 50; Harding 2009, pp. 176, 178; Gutjahr 2008, p. 342).

Engaging the Powers through Interventions in and beyond Biblical Studies.

Third, cultural studies engages operations of power through multiple interventions, from theoretical and pedagogical/curricular interventions in academia to social/public policy activism in the larger world. For example, in addition to contextualizing all biblical studies research methodologies for their historical situatedness and—in some instances—their complicity with structures of oppression (Meeks, p. 160), cultural studies’ theoretical intervention also interrogates the continuing influence of any research optic’s “museum curator’s view of history” (Fabisiak 2010, p. 190), a view that, in effect, supports those approaches that “lock the history of interpretation in the past and evade the contemporary issues such as racism and intercultural dialogue” (Myers 1991, p. 41).

Cultural studies’ pedagogical intervention also interrogates the top-down “banking system” formats (for example, the “master-disciple” model [Mata 2010, p. 250]) and “individualized” learning strategies that prevail in many Western biblical studies classrooms despite a growing body of evidence that reveals the “socially embedded” nature of all reading or actualization practices (Bielo 2006b, p. 161). More positively, cultural studies acknowledges multiple learning strategies (communal and “individualized”) and assumes a variety of learning intelligences (from kinesthetic to musical to visual/spatial and so forth [Gardner 2006]).

Cultural studies curricular interventionists not only interrogate the typical institutional norms and disciplinary protocols that police what counts as scholarship or knowledge but they also question the assignment of a “monotextual status” to the Bible (Lee 2010, pp. 35–45) as if it is the only foundational narrative, charter story, or scripture around. Such interventionists thus advocate cross-textual study or contrapuntal reading approaches that seek to recognize “the reality of the plurality of scriptures” (Lee 2010, p. 36; Liew 2008, p. 217) in many countries and the varying notions of scriptural authority associated with such plurality. Furthermore, cultural studies suggests that the dominant view of scriptural authority in the West (that the Bible is an absolute authority) is itself historically conditioned, that is, it is a tradition rooted in the European Reformation (Bielo 2006a, p. 5).

Freed from the bankrupt notion of intellectual disinterestedness, proponents of cultural studies (or those with shared affinities) also actively involve themselves in the demystification of the politics behind those public discourses and institutional powers that deploy scripture to limit human inclusion or flourishing. Cultural studies intellectual workers thus recognize the cultural capital of the Bible, that is, that many faith communities draw on it not only as a lexical storehouse but also as a basis for shaping views of themselves and others. In the long history of biblical discourse, this has meant that the Bible has often been used as a tool for “clobbering” or “textual harassment,” that is, as a weapon to sanction the marginalization of women, to justify the exploitation of the lands of others (from Africans to the indigenous of the Americas to Pacific Islanders), and to demean gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons (Tolbert 2000, pp. vii–xi). Thus, to counter such negative depictions and the exploitation of human groupings, cultural studies intellectual workers engage wider publics through news editorials, documentaries, public conferences, and various intellectual centers (like the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry among other radically progressive centers) that demystify how and why the Bible has been used historically in such demeaning ways.

[ See also CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICAN INTERPRETATION; CLASS CRITICISM; CULTURAL-HISTORICAL CRITICISM; POP CULTURE AND THE BIBLE; POSTCOLONIAL BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION; RACE, ETHNICITY, AND BIBLICAL CRITICISM; READER-RESPONSE CRITICISM; and RECEPTION CRITICISM AND THEORY.]

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Abraham Smith