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Samuel Victor's PhD research title: Knowledge, Morality, and Authority among Ex-Fundamentalist Christians in Tennessee

Competition entry title: The brewery “with a purpose”


My fieldwork took place in and around Nashville, Tennessee, a mid-sized city in the southeastern region of United States known as “The Bible Belt”. The area was the cradle of 18th century frontier revival movements and today life there remains strongly influenced by evangelical Protestantism. The people in my field site (a predominantly white, suburban church of 1,800 people; mid-to-large size for its context) consider themselves “ex-fundamentalists”. Many espouse left-liberal and pluralistic political views while remaining deeply committed to “biblical integrity” and evangelism. These photos capture the creativity with which churchgoers negotiate and communicate—through spatial, linguistic and symbolic practices—the contours and bounds of Christian and secular publics.

These photos were taken in a craft brewery recently opened by several members of the church. Located in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Nashville’s city proper, the owner and master brewer envision the taproom as a site for contesting secular space and infusing—indeed “redeeming” it with religious significance.

They also seek to challenge their conservative Protestant tradition’s strong taboo against alcohol consumption. When the owner mingles in the church lobby and is asked by curious senior churchgoers what he does for a living, he keeps it brief: “I own a small business in town”.


Some of the churchgoers-cum-barflies talk of their new haunt with a mischievous nonchalance, as if it is not unusual at all for them to so openly partake in social drinking. For them, it is a place where 

“beer has a purpose” and the bar is “an open table where everyone may be served”. Such theologically dense and polysemic statements communicate key evangelical concerns. They hint at the continual cognitive reinstatement of God as the focal point of one’s actions and for the commitment to engage in intentionally expansive social relations (i.e., beer is not just a commodity used for an individual’s intoxication it is a tool Christians can use for demonstrating virtue through prudent merriment and for enabling them to encounter people outside of their immediate social circles prudence and open-invitation public gathering draws the self and others closer to God). At the same time, such statements also communicate political and theological critiques of consumerism and of debates in their church about gender norms and LGBTQ inclusion.

There is no immediately visible Christian symbolism inside, but those who inquire about each beer’s curious name will discover its theological connotations. For example, the Third Way IPA.

I often heard this expression from the pulpit and in the church’s classrooms as people discussed their principled rejection of “dichotomous thinking” and their efforts to approach Christian living in a way that was “neither fundamentalist nor liberal”. The beer’s label reads, “When presented with ‘this’ or ‘that’ situation, consider a Third Way”.


The owner hopes to one day house a church of his own inside the brewery.  He got the chance to troubleshoot the idea when a small neighborhood congregation lost their rented space in a state school gymnasium due to city closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. He offered them the taproom for Sunday worship gatherings. The preacher delivered his sermons surrounded by sacks of malted barley and spent kegs.