Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork from a three-year project exploring childhood within British evangelical Christianity, this paper focuses on contested ideas of parental authority across different forms of evangelicalism and how these relate to contemporary discourses on ‘parenting.’ Sociologists and anthropologists have described an ‘intensification’ of parenting in recent years, in which childrearing becomes a more labour-intensive, demanding task, while it is also no longer seen primarily as a social obligation, but as a source of meaning, offering a claim to happiness (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995, Hays 1996, Faircloth 2013). Historical Puritan and evangelical parenting manuals suggest that this ‘intensification’ has a longer history within some forms of Protestant and evangelical Christianity. However there are also particular shifts within contemporary evangelical parenting. Where in Victorian evangelicalism, the role of the mother was privileged, greater attention is today given to the role of the father, and within conservative evangelicalism, we see a countercultural effort to re-inscribe paternal authority within the home. Through describing the moral norms and politics of the family articulated in parenting courses and seminars in a conservative evangelical and a charismatic evangelical church in London, this paper explores these changing evangelical understandings of parental roles and considers the questions of religious and secular authority implicated within them.
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