When you ask the average professor why they study what they study, they will usually tell you it’s because they can’t think of anything they would rather do. CMU’s Assistant Professor of History, Brian Froese, has a different reason for focusing where he does. Read on to be refreshed.
As mentioned in his edition of In Profile, Froese concentrates his research in a few different areas, including popular culture’s use of eschatology for social critique, and to a larger extent, conservative evangelical politics, culture, and religion.
I asked Dr Froese what it was like being the front man for conservative evangelical perspectives in a university often thought of as basically liberal, and by the same token, why he’d taken up that position.
A little puzzled by the question, Froese replied that he has never thought of himself as an outlier at CMU, nor been made to feel that way:
“My experience has been very positive. However, I will say before I try to answer your question more fully that teaching is not always teaching self; that is, just because I teach a certain niche of material, that doesn’t necessarily mean I subscribe to the ideas therein.”
Fair enough. But as Froese went on to describe the greater motivation for his choice of niche, what he said blew me away:
“I feel that Conservative Evangelical religion, culture, and politics constitute one of the most undeserved, untapped corners of current Canadian studies. In so many ways it remains an untold story, and that alone is enough to at least interest me in being a part of it—affording it more of the study it deserves, bringing it further into the light, etc. And I suppose, also, that I do sympathize with certain traditionally conservative or evangelical philosophies. Not that I outright subscribe to them necessarily, but I do sympathize.”
Froese went on to say that, of all the subgroups that our broader culture tends to pick on (both inside and outside the church), he feels that traditional, conservative evangelicals are among some of the most stereotyped, slandered, and written off “…as red-necks, as fundamentalists, as bigots, you name it.”
“I guess that in its self makes me want to bring some balance back to the conversation, regardless of what I personally think of the various issues. We really need to complicate our dichotomies on this one.”
Froese’s concern for a balanced, accurate, fulsome portrayal of conservative evangelical people and groups in the West takes on an even richer hue, when held in contrast with the teaching he has done on eschatology in popular culture.
(In Biblical studies, eschatology is the study of “last things,” like the apocalypse, heaven, hell, redemption and the return of Christ.)
Touching on issues such as the Satanic Panic that broke out in the 80’s, and it’s relationship to the heavy metal music scene, Froese’s research examines how society uses villains to critique the status quo and promote goals and values. When tackling the subject in the classroom, Froese—a self-professed metal lover with a PhD—is in his element.
Froese uses popular culture elements like heavy metal music, film, graffiti, etc. to animate ideas for students—to add colour and presence to what he calls “a very old human habit” as it has manifested itself in the West:
“The criteria by which groups define their villains help those same groups to define their ‘greater good’, and to focus their energies toward certain goals—toward, ultimately, a perceived ‘better society’. Basically, you can’t fix what’s wrong with the world, until you identify what’s wrong with the world, so people choose a person or an idea to vilify. That said, paying attention to this practice enables us as students of history to form a clearer picture of various societies’ values at different times, and even our own values, by examining what and who gets portrayed as ‘evil’ or destructive, and why.”
Beth Downey Sawatzky is studying English at CMU