Kate Bowler, assistant professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School, has received a 2015 sabbatical grant for researchers from The Louisville Institute to write a book on the cultural history of the wife “co-pastor” as a modern American icon.
The Kentucky-based institute’s grant program assists research and writing projects that advance religious and theological scholarship in ways that also address practical issues of Christian faith and life, pastoral leadership, or religious institutions.
The grant will provide up to $40,000 to assist in Bowler in writing the book, Co-Pastor: A History of a Modern American Icon, during a year-long academic leave. It will be a cultural history of the female co-pastor, who smiling beside her preaching husband plays many parts: submissive wife, spiritual authority, and Hollywood celebrity.
The research project will examine the rise and spread of evangelical articulations of idealized femininity in contemporary North American megaministry, from megachurches, televangelism, spiritual conferences, bestselling books, and worship albums to religious social media campaigns.
Using ethnographic fieldwork of "women's conferences," a host of interviews with co-pastors, and an analysis of all 1,600 Canadian and American megachurch websites, the book will recount the tangled history of the rise of these conservative women to the heights of spiritual stardom.
Bowler, who joined the Divinity School faculty in 2010, teaches courses in American Christianity and world Christianity with an emphasis on historical and ethnographic methods. Her first book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, was published in 2013 and traces the rise of Christian belief in divine promises of health, wealth, and happiness.