"For God's Sake, FIGHT": Carnal Ethnography, Christian Mixed Martial Arts, and a Military Definition of Reality
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Kinesiology and Sport Studies
Lars Dzikus, Leslee A. Fisher, Mark Hulsether, Raja Swamy, Jeffrey Scholes
The purpose of this study is to examine the religio-athletic assemblage that is, for lack of clearer terminology, evangelical Christian mixed martial arts (CMMA) in the United States. To frame this study, I ask: how can we make sense of CMMA as a specific religio-athletic practice and a broader cultural project? In particular, I am concerned with articulating the complex of social, material, and discursive (f)actors that make Christian MMA intelligible as a cultural project, as well as the capacity of CMMA to “affect and be affected” (Massumi, 2015, p. ix).Engaging my body as an instrument of research, I explore the carnal resonances produced by the affective entanglement of evangelical Christianity and mixed martial arts, seeking to understand the felt capacity of Christian MMA to shape bodies, condition hearts, and ostensibly, conscript souls. Paying attention to how Christian MMA structures feeling, I suggest that Christian MMA operates as a practice of affective piety as practitioners envision their practice as a spiritual discipline and a physical act of worship. The bodily pedagogy of Christian MMA shapes the feel of everyday life while also authorizing these feelings as forms of religious knowing. These practices have strong political implications. Language of spiritual warfare and self-defense seep into each other and the practice of Christian MMA is imagined as a counter-insurgent strategy to oppose “real-world” theo-political foes, for example when practitioners wear T-shirts with slogans like “Jesus didn’t tap, and neither does this country” or evangelical fighter John “The Saint” Renken’s popular mantra “beating the hell out of them.” Hegemonic masculinity is a clearly significant force in this field, although I contend that Christian MMA is even better understood as an emergent expression of a racialized counter-insurgent tradition in US politics, a tradition that can be embraced by both women and men as part of what I call the liberal muscularity of (repurposing a phrase of C. Wright Mills, 1956) a “military definition of reality.”
Smith, Zachary Taylor, ""For God's Sake, FIGHT": Carnal Ethnography, Christian Mixed Martial Arts, and a Military Definition of Reality. " PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2020.
Available for download on Friday, May 15, 2026