Casselberry, “The Labor of Faith”

Casselberry, Judith.  2017.  The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism.  Durham: Duke University Press.

Publisher’s Description: In The Labor of Faith Judith Casselberry examines the material and spiritual labor of the women of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., which is based in Harlem and one of the oldest and largest historically Black Pentecostal denominations in the United States. This male-headed church only functions through the work of the church’s women, who, despite making up three-quarters of its adult membership, hold no formal positions of power. Casselberry shows how the women negotiate this contradiction by using their work to produce and claim a spiritual authority that provides them with a particular form of power. She also emphasizes how their work in the church is as significant, labor intensive, and critical to their personhood, family, and community as their careers, home and family work, and community service are. Focusing on the circumstances of producing a holy black female personhood, Casselberry reveals the ways twenty-first-century women’s spiritual power operates and resonates with meaning in Pentecostal, female-majority, male-led churches.

McGee, “Brand New Theology”

McGee, Paula L.  2016. Brand® New Theology: The Wal-Martization of T.D. Jakes and the New Black Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Publisher’s Description: T.D. Jakes is a pastor and entrepreneur who presides over a vast megachurch and business operation. He has turned the gospel into his own successful brand—particularly through product lines such as “Woman Thou Art Loosed.”

According to author Paula McGee, Jakes is representative of a rising phenomenon, the New Black Church, a new form of prosperity gospel that signifies what she calls the “Wal-Martization” of religion. Her ideological critique is a vital tool for all who wish to understand the relation between religion and culture—especially those committed to the transformative power of the Gospel.

Klaits & McLean, “Valuing Black Lives: Pentecostalism, charismatic gifts, and human economies in a U.S. inner city”

Klaits, Frederick and Shenita A. McLean. 2015. Valuing Black lives: Pentecostalism, charismatic gifts, and human economies in a U.S. inner city. American Ethnologist 42(4): 610-623. 

Abstract: A common trope in recent Black popular literature compares pastors and pimps on the grounds that both collect money from their dependents. We frame this comparison in terms of regimes of value operating in U.S. inner cities, where the commercial economy and legal system commonly fail to affirm the personhood of the racialized poor. Drawing on fieldwork in Buffalo, New York, we show that in eliciting tithes and protection money, pastors and pimps combine care and exploitation in ways that assert the value of their own and others’ lives against heavy odds. We extend the concept of “human economy” developed by David Graeber to these transactions, arguing that pimps and pastors construe the money they gather in terms of its power to recognize the value of the lives of givers, askers, and receivers.

Chipumuro, “Pastor, Mentor, or Father? The Contested Intimacies of the Eddie Long Sex Abuse Scandal”

Chipumuro, Todne. 2014. “Pastor, Mentor, or Father? The Contested Intimacies of the Eddie Long Sex Abuse Scandal.” Journal of Afrcana Religions 2(1):1-30.

Abstract: In September 2010, four young African American men filed lawsuits against Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church alleging that Long had sexually abused them as teens. Though the case generated a number of discussions about the institutional politics underwriting clerical privilege, missing was detailed attention to the interior social dynamics that connected the religious participants. Informed by an examination of the case’s legal texts and related local and electronic media, this article examines how the relationships between Long and his accusers were differentially constructed as pastoral relationships, mentorship ties, and spiritual kinship bonds. Applying anthropological frameworks that demonstrate how different forms of sociality can intersect to reinforce social structures, I use this timely investigation to argue that despite the variegated and con- tested character of the relationships, all are mutually organized by the social logic of patriarchy and the complex intimacies mediating contemporary Afro-Protestant religious belonging.

Chipumuro, “Breaking Bread with the Brethren: Fraternalism and Text in a Black Atlantic Church Community”

Chipumuro Todne Thomas. 2012. Breaking Bread with the Brethren: Fraternalism and Text in a Black Atlantic Church Community. Journal of African American Studies 16(4):604–621 

Abstract:  This ethnographic article examines the constitution of brotherhood at Dixon Bible Chapel (DBC)—a West Indian and African American Brethren church community located in Lithonia, Georgia, a suburb of the Atlanta metropolitan area. Based on my analysis of interview, oral history, and church historical texts collected during fieldwork from 2006 to 2008, I propose that DBC members conceptualize brotherhood as an egalitarian, closely knit form of religious belonging inspired by New Testament representations of the church. Furthermore, I argue that is through DBC brothers’ textual rituals that brotherhood is substantiated as a framework for male democratic religious participation and leadership. Though hierarchies of class, ethnicity, gender, and generation segment the ranks of DBC brotherhood and the church community writ large, church members invest in brotherhood as a social formation that they believe sidesteps the exclusions of mainstream religious institutions. Extending the implications of DBC brotherhood to the present issue’s emphasis of black fraternal organizations, I pose questions about the meanings and salience of fraternalism as a social model for Afro-diasporic institution building.

Casselberry, “The Politics of Righteousness”

Casselberry, Judith.  2013.  The Politics of Righteousness: Race and Gender in Apostolic Pentecostalism.  Transforming Anthropology 21(1): 72-86.

Excerpt: The contours of Apostolic women’s negotiations of intraracial gender politics, majority status, and the requirement that they submit to male polity within COOLJC may be better understood by examining various intersecting sites of religious, raced, and gendered experience and expression, specifically the ways women understand themselves as holy Black women in divergent contexts. This article examines three such sites: first, the church founder’s Black cultural consciousness and “vindicationist” theology, which centers women in the Black religious experience; second, the church community’s adherence to mainstream Black traditions of struggle for full societal inclusion; and third, an interpretive gap in tenets of submission, fostered by the intersection of female spiritual authority and race politics, which translates into practices of what I term “leading from the background” and “acceptable disobedience” in intra-racial gender negotiations.  This article teases out Black Apostolic women’s lived experiences and expressions in differing contexts to highlight the methods employed as they navigate apparent contradictions and negotiate real conflicts at the intersections of religion, race, and gender. Interrogating these particularities shows that religion, race, and gender are co-constituted categories of identity and, “are always already inextricably linked…[and] wholly dependent on each other for their social existence and symbolic meanings” (Goldschmidt 2004: 7). Self-identification as “Black holy women” shapes, and is shaped by, the areas they identify as oppressive or empowering, as well as the ways they develop resistant, complicit, and assertive strategies for righteous living within the church community, in their professional lives, and homes. Black Apostolic women move through the world wrapped in the legacy of Black political culture while “wearing the breastplate of righteousness.

Marina, “Getting the Holy Ghost”

Marina, Peter. 2013. Getting the Holy Ghost: Urban Ethnography in a Brooklyn Pentecostal Tongue-Speaking Church. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Publisher’s Description: This book carries an ethnographic signature in approach and style, and is an examination of a small Brooklyn, New York, African-American, Pentecostal church congregation and is based on ethnographic notes taken over the course of four years. The Pentecostal Church is known to outsiders almost exclusively for its members’ “bizarre” habit of speaking in tongues. This ethnography, however, puts those outsiders inside the church pews, as it paints a portrait of piety, compassion, caring, love—all embraced through an embodiment perspective, as the church’s members experience these forces in the most personal ways through religious conversion. Central themes include concerns with the notion of “spectacle” because of the grand bodily display that is highlighted by spiritual struggle, social aspiration, punishment and spontaneous explosions of a variety of emotions in the public sphere. The approach to sociology throughout this work incorporates the striking dialectic of history and biography to penetrate and interact with religiously inspired residents of the inner-city in a quest to make sense both empirically and theoretically of this rapidly changing, surprising and highly contradictory late-modern church scene.

The focus on the individual process of becoming Pentecostal provides a road map into the church and canvasses an intimate view into the lives of its members, capturing their stories as they proceed in their Pentecostal careers. This book challenges important sociological concepts like crisis to explain religious seekership and conversion, while developing new concepts such as “God Hunting” and “Holy Ghost Capital” to explain the process through which individuals become tongue-speaking Pentecostals. Church members acquire “Holy Ghost Capital” and construct a Pentecostal identity through a relationship narrative to establish personal status and power through conflicting tongue-speaking ideas. Finally, this book examines the futures of the small and large, institutionally affiliated Pentecostal Church and argues that the small Pentecostal Church is better able to resist modern rationalizing forces, retaining the charisma that sparked the initial religious movement. The power of charisma in the small church has far-reaching consequences and implications for the future of Pentecostalism and its followers.

Crumbley, “Saved and Sanctified”

Crumbley, Deidre. 2012. Saved and Sanctified: The Rise of a Storefront Church in Great Migration Philadelphia. Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida.

Publisher’s Description: During the early twentieth century, millions of southern blacks moved north to escape the violent racism of the Jim Crow South and to find employment in urban centers. They transplanted not only themselves but also their culture; in the midst of this tumultuous demographic transition emerged a new social institution, the storefront sanctified church.
Saved and Sanctified focuses on one such Philadelphia church that was started above a horse stable, was founded by a woman born sixteen years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and is still active today. “The Church,” as it is known to its members, offers a unique perspective on an under-studied aspect of African American religious institutions.
Through painstaking historical and ethnographic research, Deidre Helen Crumbley illuminates the crucial role these oftentimes controversial churches played in the spiritual life of the African American community during and after the Great Migration. She provides a new perspective on women and their leadership roles, examines the loose or nonexistent relationship these Pentecostal churches have with existing denominations, and dispels common prejudices about those who attend storefront churches. Skillfully interweaving personal vignettes from her own experience as a member, along with life stories of founding members, Crumbley provides new insights into the importance of grassroots religion and community-based houses of worship.

Goluboff, “Making African American Homeplaces”

Goluboff, Sascha L. 2011. Making African American Homeplaces in Rural Virginia. Ethos 39(3):368-394.

Abstract: In this article, I propose that anthropologists of Christianity broaden their understanding of emotion to include intense attachments to home and kin as central to cultivating faith. I use examples from my research with African Americans who continue to live on land purchased by their emancipated ancestors and attend a United Methodist church established by those same ancestors in rural Western Virginia. I suggest that theoretical attention to this worldly home, as well as to God, is key to understanding the process of belief. It opens up the possibility of seeing emotional connection as a catalyst for political awareness and change, and it also brings gender and generational relations into sharp focus. Ultimately, I argue that the maintenance of such African American religious and secular homeplaces works to challenge the legacies of racism in the rural South.