Kate Mende-Fridkis

Thesis Title:  "The Limiting Effects of the Construct of Masculinity and Modern Christian Manhood."

Advisor:  James W. Jones

My thesis provided me with an opportunity to combine both of my most profound academic interests: research concerning gender, and research concerning religion. In the field of gender studies there has been extensive inquiry into the intersection of organized religion and gender in terms of women’s roles and experiences. Because institutionalized Western religion is traditionally patriarchal and privileges males, men have largely been viewed as the normative voice of religion, and their relationship with religion has been categorized as largely positive. My investigation of masculinity and religion explores the possibility that by generalizing the definition of “man,” religion often serves to constrict individual men by limiting the range of their personhood. The Promise Keepers makes a convenient case study for the paradoxical relationship between current secular notions of masculinity and the traditional Judeo-Christian paradigm of manhood.  My research exposes the reliance of the Promise Keepers on a new definition of masculinity that allows for the concept of men supporting one another and questioning the nature of the “male” experience. This new masculinity is in tension with the notion of traditional masculinity espoused by the movement, and this basic tension can be identified as an important theme of the study of masculinity and religion in the modern world.

It was exciting to work with Dr. Jones, whose own research is a constant source of inspiration for me, and whose expansive knowledge as well as impressive open-mindedness make him a role model of personal as well as scholarly excellence. He has been my mentor for the majority of my time at Rutgers, and has facilitated my intellectual growth, assisted and advised me through my graduate school application process, and listened with the patience of an experienced therapist to me whine on multiple occasions. I have Dr. Jones to thank for making my time at Rutgers as fruitful as it was, and for enabling me to begin to picture myself as a scholar.
I also appreciate the religion faculty’s support and encouragement, and would like to thank Professor Kolbaba in particular for participating in my project as a second reader, and for her interest in my work as well as her warmth. And while I’m thanking people who made my time at Rutgers more fulfilling and productive, I want to thank Professor Johnson (a formidable opponent in any sort of scholarly debate!), Professor Bowden, and Susan Rosario, all of whom helped me many times and were available to offer constructive criticism, advice about graduate school, and just conversation about life in general.

I am extremely honored that my thesis was awarded highest honors by the panel at my defense. I will be continuing my study of religion at Columbia University this fall. Although hopefully I’ll also read something of educational value over the summer, and maybe even learn something.