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John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Coming of Age in Ontario

An anthropologist bonds with a tribe called "InterVarsity Christian Fellowship."

The Church on the World's Turf: An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University
by Paul A. Bradmadat
Oxford Univ. Press, 2000
224 pp.; $35

To see ourselves as others see us has been more possible for North Atlantic evangelicals in the last 50 years than perhaps ever before. Since 1976, the so-called Year of the Evangelical, mainstream media have regularly featured evangelical churches, organizations, and leaders. At least as interesting to Books & Culture readers, however, is the flood of academic research that has poured forth from the presses since that time, and especially since George Marsden's landmark study, Fundamentalism and American Culture (1980).

Perhaps the last social scientific discipline to engage evangelicalism has been anthropology. In a new book, University of Winnipeg religious studies professor Paul Bramadat offers the first ethnographical study of a distinctive form of evangelical community: the Christian student fellowship on a secular university campus.

The Church on the World's Turf is based on Bramadat's doctoral dissertation at McMaster University, a major university located southwest of Toronto in Hamilton, Ontario. Bramadat studied the McMaster chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) for two extended periods: the fall term of 1994 and the entire academic year 1995-96. He attended most of the IVCF events and interviewed many of its leaders and rank-and-file members. He then went more than the proverbial extra mile as he concluded his field research by accompanying an evangelistic team of IVCFers to Lithuania in the spring of 1996.

The resulting study is a rich portrait of a group that will be generically familiar to many evangelicals, yet painted by a sympathetic outsider. Bramadat follows postmodern convention and identifies himself and his biases in his introduction. He is definitely an outsider: a Unitarian Universalist who, he says, "was predisposed to be tolerant of almost everyone except evangelicals or fundamentalists." ...

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