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Born Again Bodies

Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 337
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  • Book Info
    Born Again Bodies
    Book Description:

    "Fat People Don't Go to Heaven!" screamed a headline in the tabloidGlobein 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 fromLarry King Liveto theNew 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 likeWhat Would Jesus Eat?andFit for God.Written with style and wit, far ranging in its implications, and rich with the stories of real people,Born Again Bodieslaunches 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93811-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Perilous Body Gospels
    (pp. 1-18)

    “Fat People Don’t Go To Heaven!” screamed a boldface headline inside theGlobe, a national weekly tabloid circulated to millions of American readers. The story beneath this lurid caption in November 2000 recounted the rise of Gwen Shamblin, founder and CEO of the nation’s largest Christian diet company and recent subject of extensive press coverage fromLarry King Liveand20/20to theNew Yorker. While this media flurry fed on controversies then swirling around Shamblin—including a series of lawsuits filed by former employees whom Shamblin allegedly fired for refusing to join her newly founded church—reporters reacted more...

  6. A Note on Reading the Images
    (pp. 19-22)
  7. 1 Gluttons for Regimen: Anglo-Protestant Culture and the Reorientation of Appetite
    (pp. 23-68)

    Monks wasting away in the desert, saints beating their bodies and sleeping on nails, apostles renouncing all pleasures and subsisting on the charity of benefactors, pious men and women starving their senses in emulation of Christ: it is by now a truism to note that devout Christians of earlier eras displayed profound ambivalence about the flesh. Both patristic and medieval followers of the faith, women and men, felt the body to be a burden that must be suffered resignedly during earthly life while yet remaining the crucial material out of which devotional practice and spiritual progress were forged. Cultivated as...

  8. 2 Sculptors of Our Own Exterior: New Thought Physiques
    (pp. 69-109)

    If phrenology’s far-reaching popularity diminished in the waning decades of the nineteenth century, it remained a companion and source of inspiration for one of the era’s most influential, fluid, and enduring movements. When the popular New Thought writer William Walker Atkinson (1862–1932) publishedHuman Nature: Its Inner States and Outer Formsin 1910, for instance, he promoted phrenological teachings as the essential foundation of current intellectual and spiritual advances. Even as it fervently defended phrenological categories, however,Human Natureupdated them to fit the times. Scientific refutations of phrenology’s empirical basis had already blended with public skepticism and fatigue...

  9. 3 Minding the Body: Divergent Paths of New Thought Perfectionism
    (pp. 110-159)

    The spread of New Thought’s cultural influence is not easy to map, especially since so many of its distinctive themes overlapped and merged with other motifs in American Christianity and culture. A hodgepodge of psychological and physiological techniques for attaining health, wealth, and happiness took many forms in Pentecostal circles, for instance, as preachers and healers such as Aimee Semple McPherson, William Branham, and Oral Roberts insisted that such blessings were part of God’s plan for all obedient believers. The early twentieth century also witnessed a rising interest in particular physical routines that proponents taught would have a profound effect...

  10. 4 Pray the Weight Away: Shaping Devotional Fitness Culture
    (pp. 160-205)

    Disparate twentieth-century programs of masculinized fasting, Sheldonian somatotypy, and epicurean empowerment inspired many in their day, but they give less than a full picture of metaphysical preoccupations with the flesh. Devotion to thinness, at least among white middle-class Americans, took lasting hold on the culture between 1890 and 1910, as we have seen. But if the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century marked the development and ripening of American diet culture, the postwar years provided vital nourishment for that culture’s intensification, a process built upon ever mounting certitude about the inward truths supposedly revealed by the condition of...

  11. 5 “Don’t Eat That”: Denial, Indulgence, and Exclusion in Christian Diet Culture
    (pp. 206-238)

    The practice of shaping the body in service to particular religious ideals subsists on the rhythms of desire and restraint, excess and exclusion. Like other acts born of longing piled on necessity, eating can be an act of passion and anticipated satiation, while also carrying live possibilities for regret and shame. Some appetites are not easily slaked. For American Protestant people—who have restricted or eschewed sex, alcohol, smoking, dancing, leisure activities, and other bodily pleasures for the sake of obedience and virtue—eating has long carried dense and contradictory meanings. Early modern Protestants, we recall, made creative and sometimes...

  12. Epilogue: Bodies in Crisis?
    (pp. 239-250)

    From Cotton Mather to Sylvester Graham, Samuel Wells to Elizabeth Towne, Bernarr Macfadden to Father Divine, Charlie Shedd to Gwen Shamblin, American Christians and their metaphysical heirs have unsettled, if not given the lie to, the putative legacy of body-spirit dualism bequeathed by their tradition. While speaking in disparate voices as to the particular techniques and aims most suitable for keeping the body in check, disciples have concurrently verified a basic religious obligation to cultivate correct bodily practice and create a properlookingbody. Even Father Divine, who of all the individuals analyzed in this book did the most to...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 251-290)
  14. Primary Source Bibliography
    (pp. 291-302)
  15. Index
    (pp. 303-323)