"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.
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?
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
The Power of Perfection: Purified Bodies and Racialized Worlds
Epilogue: Bodies in Crisis?
Primary Source Bibliography
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).
“Engaging and persuasive. . . .Offers readers a promising new direction in the study of American religion. Highly recommended.”—S. McCloud Choice
"Excellent . . . . Griffith offers fascinating analyses of the writing and work of dozens of both famous and completely unknown practitioners."—Publishers Weekly
“Marie Griffith’s marvelous book will make a lot of people think twice. She has done what many historians aspire to do but few actually manage to accomplish: make this world a more humane place.”—Grant Wacker Books & Culture: A Christian Review
“Griffith provides no easy answers, but she does offer the most complex and comprehensive view of these historical trajectories to date.”—Amy Frykholm Christian Century
"This is a wonderful book, well-conceptualized, written with style and wit, and impressive for its ambition, reach and achievement. R. Marie Griffith brings to the scene learning, theoretical subtlety, critical acumen, historical skill, and humane sensibility. She has emerged as one of the most sophisticated and insightful scholars of the Christian body in any period of Christian history."—Robert Orsi, Harvard University
"Born Again Bodies
is extraordinary. It uncovers an arena of knowledge never before looked at with this level of critical attention when examining American religious culture; Griffith's strength is that she looks across the 'evangelical' denominations. Her work is elegant and truly original."—Sander L. Gilman, author of Difference and Pathology
and Jewish Frontiers