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The mainstream is the prevalent current thought that is widespread.[1][2] It includes all popular culture and media culture, typically disseminated by mass media. This word is sometimes used in a pejorative sense by subcultures who view ostensibly mainstream culture as not only exclusive but artistically and aesthetically inferior.[3] It is to be distinguished from subcultures and countercultures, and at the opposite extreme are cult followings and fringe theories. In the United States, mainline churches are sometimes referred to synonymously as "mainstream."[4][5]


The term mainstream refers to the main current of a river or stream. Its figurative use by Thomas Carlyle to indicating the prevailing taste or mode is attested at least as early as 1831,[6] even though one citation of this sense is found prior to Carlyle's, as early as 1599.[7]


Main articles: Mainstream media and Mass media

The labels "mainstream media" and "mass media" are generally applied to print publications (such as newspapers and magazines), radio formats, and television stations that contain the highest audience or have the broadest appeal. This is in contrast to various independent media, such as alternative media newspapers, specialized magazines in various organizations and corporations, and various electronic sources such as podcasts and blogs (though certain blogs are more mainstream than others given their association with a mainstream source).[8]


Mainstream Christianity is a term used to collectively refer to the common views of major denominations of Christianity that adhere to the Nicene Creed (such as Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism) as opposed the particular tenets of other Christian denominations.[9][10] The context is dependent on the particular issues addressed, but usually contrasts an orthodox majority view against a heterodox minority view. In the most common sense, "mainstream" refers to Nicene Christianity, that is the traditions which accept the Nicene Creed.[11][12]

Mainstream American Protestant churches[13] (also called "Mainline Protestant") are a group of Protestant churches in the United States that have stressed social justice and personal salvation,[14] and both politically and theologically, tend to be more liberal than non-mainstream Protestants. Mainstream Protestant churches share a common approach that often leads to collaboration in organizations such as the National Council of Churches,[15] and because of their involvement with the ecumenical movement, they are sometimes given the alternative label of "ecumenical Protestantism" (especially outside the United States).[16] While in 1970 the mainstream Protestant churches claimed most Protestants and more than 30 percent of the American population as members,[17] as of 2009 they are a minority among American Protestants, claiming approximately 15 percent of American adults.[18]


Mainstream science is scientific inquiry in an established field of study that does not depart significantly from orthodox theories. In the philosophy of science, mainstream science is an area of scientific endeavor that has left the process of becoming established. New areas of scientific endeavor still in the process of becoming established are generally labelled protoscience or fringe science. A definition of mainstream in terms of protoscience and fringe science[19] can be understood from the following table:[20]

Systematized as scientific definition
Treated with scientific method
Attempts to be scientific or resembles science
Superstition Pseudoscience Protoscience Fringe science (Mainstream) science

By its standard practices of applying good scientific methods, mainstream science is distinguished from pseudoscience as a demarcation problem and specific types of inquiry are debunked as junk science, cargo cult science, scientific misconduct, etc.


Main article: Normality (behavior)

Mainstream pressure, through actions such as peer pressure, can force individuals to conform to the mores of the group (e.g., an obedience to the mandates of the peer group). Some, such as those of modern Hipster culture, have stated that they see the mainstream as the antithesis of individuality.

According to sociologist G. William Domhoff, critiques of mainstream sociology and political science that suggest their allegiance to an elite few, such as the work of sociologists C. Wright Mills (especially his book The Power Elite) and Floyd Hunter, troubles mainstream sociologists, and mainstream sociology "often tries to dismiss power structure research as muckraking or mere investigative journalism" and downplays the notion of dominance by a power elite because of doubts about the ability of many business sectors to coordinate a unified program, while generally overlooking a policy-planning network that can perform this function.[21]


Main article: Literary fiction

Mainstream fiction also known as literary fiction or non-genre fiction, as opposed to genre fiction, refers to the realistic fiction of human character, or more broadly, "all serious prose fiction outside the market genres", the genres being for example science fiction, fantasy, thrillers or Westerns.[22] Jeff Prucher defined mainstream literature as "realistic literature... that does not beling to a marketing category (especially science fiction, fantasy or horror)".[23]: 115  Ben Bova argued that such a distinction is relatively new, observing that "the literature of the fantastic was the mainstream of world storytelling from the time writing began until the beginning of the seventeenth century".[24]

In the context of science fiction, Brian Stableford defined mainstream literature as "a tradition that had been and remained stubbornly indifferent to, if not proudly ignorant of, the progress of science".[25] James E. Gunn wrote that "The SF community uses the word mainstream to describe the fiction that is getting the attention they want; the word is a confession that SF is felt to be a sidestream, a tributary.[26]

Nonetheless, Jeff Prucher noted that as time passes, much of science fiction vocabulary is entering mainstream, citing examples of terms such as robot, cyberspace, spaceship and newspeak.[23]: xv-xvi 

Critics and readers of mainstream fiction have been accused of "snobbery" when it comes to their dislike of genre fiction.[27] On the other hand, Gunn noted that genre fans and critics have their own hubris, referring to mainstream as mundane, with the term's "deliberate overtones of dullness, worldliness, and uninspired realism".[26]

Gunn also noted the difference between commercial and literary mainstreams; with the former meaning authors whose works are popular - high-selling bestsellers, and the latter, works seen as "art". He also noted that there is a contradiction between these, as "high sales figures are generally taken to mean the author has sold out" and left the literary mainstream. He further defined the literary mainstream as "dominated by the academic-literary community—university professors of literature; high-powered critics for prestige publications such as the New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker: and writers who take the first two groups seriously". According to Gunn, the field of literary fiction in the United States is significantly framed by fiction of the early 20th century and classic canon made from works of authors such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce or Henry James.[26]

Slipstream genre is sometimes located in between the genre and non-genre (mainstream) fictions.

See also


  1. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition (2011) (defining "mainstream" as "The prevailing current of thought, influence, or activity).
  2. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition (2011) (defining "prevailing" as "Generally current; widespread...").
  3. ^ Pysnakova, Michaela. "Understanding the Meaning of Consumption of Everyday Lives of 'Mainstream' Youth in the Czech Republic" in New Perspectives on Consumer Culture Theory and Research, p. 64 (Pavel Zahrádka and Renáta Sedláková eds. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013).
  4. ^ Caldwell, John. "Faith in school: as mainstream churches continue to wrestle with homosexuality, some religious colleges are taking an increasingly welcoming attitude toward gay students", The Advocate September 2, 2003
  5. ^ Baer, Hans A. "Black Mainstream Churches; Emancipatory or Accommodative Responses to Racism and Social Stratification in American Society?" Review of Religious Research Vol. 30, No. 2 (Dec., 1988), pp. 162-176
  6. ^ "Mainstream (n)" Online Etymology Dictionary
  7. ^ "mainstream". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  8. ^ Wallsten, K (2007). "Agenda Setting and the Blogosphere: An Analysis of the Relationship between Mainstream Media and Political Blogs". Review of Policy Research. 24 (6): 567–587. doi:10.1111/j.1541-1338.2007.00300.x.
  9. ^ World Encyclopaedia of Interfaith Studies: World religions. Jnanada Prakashan. 2009. ISBN 978-81-7139-280-3. In the most common sense, "mainstream" refers to Nicene Christianity, or rather the traditions which continue to claim adherence to the Nicene Creed.
  10. ^ Gelfgren, Stefan; Lindmark, Daniel (2021). Conservative Religion and Mainstream Culture: Opposition, Negotiation, and Adaptation. Springer Nature. ISBN 978-3-030-59381-0. Christianity, after all, divides into the major traditions Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox.
  11. ^ "The Nicene Creed", Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911, The Nicene Creed is the profession of the Christian Faith common to the Catholic Church, to all the Eastern Churches separated from Rome, and to most of the Protestant denominations
  12. ^ "Nicene Creed", Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online., 2007, Christian statement of faith that is the only ecumenical creed because it is accepted as authoritative by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and major Protestant churches
  13. ^ Moorhead, James H. (1999), World Without End: Mainstream American Protestant Visions of the Last Things, 1880–1925, Religion in North America, number 28, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. xxii, 241
  14. ^ Chang, Perry (November 2006), Recent Changes in Membership and Attendance (PDF), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-02-02
  15. ^ Wuthnow, Robert; Evans, John H., eds. (2002), The Quiet Hand of God: Faith-Based Activism and the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism, p. 4
  16. ^ Hutcheson, Richard G., Jr. (1981), Mainline Churches and the Evangelicals: A Challenging Crisis?, Atlanta, Georgia: John Knox Press, pp. 36–37
  17. ^ Hout, Michael; Greeley, Andrew; Wilde, Melissa J. (2001). "The Demographic Imperative in Religious Change in the United States". American Journal of Sociology. 107 (2): 468–500. doi:10.1086/324189. S2CID 143419130.
  18. ^ "Report Examines the State of Mainline Protestant Churches",, The Barna Group, December 7, 2009, archived from the original on November 6, 2011
  19. ^ Reflections on the reception of unconventional claims in science, newsletter Center for Frontier Sciences, Temple University (1990).
  20. ^ Thomas Kuhn: Reflections on my critics. In: Imre Lakatos and A. Musgrave: Criticism and the growth of knowledge. Cambridge University Press, London (1974), pp. 231–278.
  21. ^ Domhoff, G. William. "C. Wright Mills, Floyd Hunter, and 50 Years of Power Structure Research". Who Rules America?. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  22. ^ "SFE: Mainstream Writers of SF". Retrieved 2022-08-31.
  23. ^ a b Prucher, Jeff (2007-03-21). Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-530567-8.
  24. ^ Herbert, Frank (1981). Nebula Winners: Fifteen. Harper & Row. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-06-014830-0.
  25. ^ Stableford, Brian (2006-09-06). Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. pp. xxi. ISBN 978-1-135-92373-0.
  26. ^ a b c Gunn, James E. (1988). "Mainstream". The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-81041-3.
  27. ^ "SFE: Genre SF". Retrieved 2022-08-31.