Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Crop-Tops, Hipsters and Liminality: Fashion and Differentiation in Two Evangelical Student Groups

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Crop-Tops, Hipsters and Liminality: Fashion and Differentiation in Two Evangelical Student Groups

Article excerpt

Edward Croft Dutton

Divinity Department, University of Aberdeen, Scotland


This article will examine the use of contemporary fashions as a means by which evangelical students express a sense of differentiation from other students. It will draw upon detailed participant observation. It will use this data to criticise Turner's understanding of liminality. The article will demonstrate that university is a liminal phase and that Oxford University is more liminal than Leiden University. It will argue that, drawing upon the groups assessed, liminality is better defined as a loosening of structure on one level and a reassertion of structure on another. In looking at fashions among evangelical students, it will argue that the more liminal a university is, the more structured and differentiated its main evangelical group appears to be. Moreover, the article aims to provide useful research into fashion among evangelical students.


[1] Some evangelical students at Oxford University make their religiosity clear to other students. They can often be seen to wear "hoodies," from their annual Mission Week, which are adorned with a bible verse and slogans such as "Are you Saved?" The majority are far subtler in their use of clothing but there are clear differences between the way they dress and the way that Non-Christians would generally dress. By contrast, evangelical students a Leiden University, in the Netherlands, wear, in essence, the same clothes as other students. I cite these images because they neatly encapsulate the area that this article will address. The article will examine the degree to which members of university evangelical groups, at two very different universities, express their degree of differentiation through their clothing. It will demonstrate that the clothing worn by members of Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU) betokens the highest degree of differentiation while that worn by members of Navigators Studenten Leiden (NSL) points to a considerably lower degree of differentiation. I will use these findings to highlight a broad methodological criticism. I will suggest that, at least in the cases discussed, the more liminal a situation is, the more communitas there is on one level and the more structure there is on another level. In this regard, the paper will critique the understanding of liminality advocated by Victor Turner who suggests that the more liminal a situation is, the less structured it is. 1 The article engages with the study of religion because it examines the relationship between the student evangelical group and the liminal phase in which it operates. Moreover, it disputes the broadness with which a theory that has been employed to understand the dynamics of religious organisations and religious activities, such as pilgrimage, can be applied. The article will also provide considerable insight into the ways in which evangelical students employ clothing and fashion to express their sense of differentiation. Thus, the article will first look at Turner's understanding of liminality. Thereafter, it will look at why fashion is the most salient sign of differentiation, it will outline my fieldwork methodology and outline the composition of OICCU and NSL. Then, drawing upon interviews with group members, it will demonstrate the differing levels of differentiation in relation to fashion.

Turner and Rites of Passage

[2] For Turner, Rites of Passage involve a "passenger" passing through a gap between two cultural realms-"a liminal phase." In this passage, he experiences a "state of transition" which differs markedly from his previous pre-liminal or his future post-liminal experience. This passage tends to involve "segregation, marginality and aggregation." (Turner 1969, 94). In this phase, the passenger lacks a specific place in "cultural space." Therefore, the fellow-passengers tend to experience a strong sense of togetherness in which social distinctions and structure become less relevant. …

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