On the Lived Theology Reading List: Conceiving Parenthood

Conceiving Parenthood book coverAmerican Protestantism and the Spirit of Reproduction

While reproductive techniques are more innovative than ever, controversy has become a constant in bioethical discussion. PLT Contributor Amy Laura Hall explores the origin of these ethical issues, concluding that mainline Protestantism has been largely complicit in the development of procreative technology. Analyzing photos and advertisements from popular magazines from the 1930s through the 1950s, she claims that Protestants have justified responsible procreation and fostered a culture of “carefully delineated, racially encoded domesticity.” Hall aims to inspire new conversations within communities and faith congregations to renounce this exclusivity and re-construct the meaning of family.

Oxford University’s Bernd Wannenwetsch reviews:

“Written in an engaging and brilliantly entertaining style, the book confronts us with the ideology of the familiar and familial — an ideology in which we all are easily and comfortably entrapped. Who would not want to have or be part of a ‘good family’? Working through a wealth of amazing — and embarrassing — material that demonstrates the self-idolizing of the better-offs in twentieth-century American society as it has stylized the image of the ‘right’ and ‘decent’ family, Amy Laura Hall’s analysis is still far from cold-blooded deconstructivism. Drawing on theological voices of brave dissent from the mainstream, her call for ‘reconceiving parenthood’ is ultimately a call for mercy and a witness to its transforming presence in the midst of a highly ideologized society.”

American Historical Review writes:

“A powerful work of interdisciplinary historical and cultural analysis that is informed by theological ethics. . . . An important contribution to the ongoing study of eugenics, domesticity, and the history of the family.”

PLT Contributor Christine Pohl of Asbury Theological Seminary reviews:

“There is much to be learned from Amy Laura Hall’s rich description and probing analysis of twentieth-century assumptions about responsible parents and children ‘worthy of a place.’ Her account powerfully illuminates what is theologically and humanly at stake in contemporary impulses to craft more perfect children.”

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Amy Laura Hall is associate professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, she has served both urban and suburban parishes and is a member of the Rio Texas Conference. Her publications include Kierkegaard and the Treachery of Love (2002) and Conceiving Parenthood: The Protestant Spirit of Biotechnological Reproduction (2007). Hall is currently working on a long-term project on masculinity and gender anxiety in mainstream, white evangelicalism.

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