Goff, Farnsley, and Theusen, eds. “Bible in American Life”

Goff, Phillip, Arthur Farnsley II, and Peter J. Theusen, eds. 2017. The Bible in American Life. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: There is a paradox in American Christianity. According to Gallup, nearly eight in ten Americans regard the Bible as either the literal word of God or the inspired by God. At the same time, surveys have revealed gaps in these same Americans’ biblical literacy. These discrepancies reveal the complex relationship between American Christians and Holy Writ, a subject that is widely acknowledged but rarely investigated.

The Bible in American Life is a sustained, collaborative reflection on the ways Americans use the Bible in their personal lives. It also considers how other influences, including religious communities and the internet, shape individuals’ comprehension of scripture. Employing both quantitative methods (the General Social Survey and the National Congregations Study) and qualitative research (historical studies for context), The Bible in American Life provides an unprecedented perspective on the Bible’s role outside of worship, in the lived religion of a broad cross-section of Americans both now and in the past.

The Bible has been central to Christian practice, and has functioned as a cultural touchstone, throughout American history, but too little is known about how people engage it every day. How do people read the Bible for themselves outside of worship? How have denominational and parachurch publications influenced the interpretation and application of scripture? How have clergy and congregations influenced individual understandings of scripture? These questions are especially pressing in a time when denominations are losing much of their traditional cultural authority, technology is changing reading and cognitive habits, and subjective experience is continuing to eclipse textual authority as the mark of true religion.

From the broadest scale imaginable, national survey data about all Americans, down to the smallest details, such as the portrayal of Noah and his ark in children’s Bibles, this book offers insight and illumination from scholars across the intellectual spectrum. It will be useful and informative for scholars seeking to understand changes in American Christianity as well as clergy seeking more effective ways to preach and teach about scripture in a changing environment.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part One: Overview
1. “The Bible in American Life Today” by Philip Goff, Arthur Farnsley, and Peter Thuesen

Part Two: Past
2. “America’s First Bible: Native Uses, Abuses, and Re-uses of the Indian Bible of 1663” by Linford D. Fisher
3. “The Debate over Prophetic Evidence for the Authority of the Bible in Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana” by Jan Stievermann
4. “Navigating the Loss of Interpretive Innocence: Reading the ‘Enlightenment’ Bible in Early Modern America” by Robert E. Brown
5. “Reading the Bible in a Romantic Era” by Beth Schweiger
6. “The Origins of Whiteness and the Black (Biblical) Imagination: The Bible in the ‘Slave Narrative’ Tradition” by Emerson B. Powery
7. “Biblical Women in the Woman’s Exponent: The Bible in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism” by Amy Easton-Flake
8. “Scriptualizing Religion and Ethnicity: The Circle Seven Koran” by Sylvester Johnson
9. “Reading the Bible in War and Crisis to Know the Future” by Matthew Avery Sutton
10. “Reference Bibles and Interpretive Authority” by B.M. Pietsch
11. “The Soul’s Train: The Bible and Southern Folk and Popular Music” by Paul Harvey
12. “Where Two or Three are Gathered: The Adult Bible Class Movement and the Social Life of Scripture” by Christopher D. Cantwell
13. “The Word is True: King James Onlyism and the Quest for Certainty in American Evangelical Life” by Jason A. Hentschel
14. “Selling Trust: The Living Bible and the Business of Biblicism” by Daniel Vaca
15. “The Bible and the Legacy of First Wave Feminism” by Claudia Setzer
16. “Let Us Be Attentive: The Orthodox Study Bible, Converts, and the Debate on Orthodox Lay Uses of Scripture” by Garrett Spivey

Part Three: Present
17. “The Continuing Distinctive Role of the Bible in American Lives: A Comparative Analysis” by Corwin Smidt
18. “Emerging Trends in American Children’s Bibles, 1990-2015” by Russell W. Dalton
19. “The Curious Case of the Christian Bible and the U.S. Constitution: Challenges for Educators Teaching the Bible in a Multi-Religious Context” by John F. Kutsko
20. “Transforming Practice: American Bible Reading in Digital Culture” by John B. Weaver
21. “Readers and their E-Bibles: The Shape and Authority of the Hypertext Canon” by Bryan Bibb
22. “How American Women and Men Read the Bible” by Amanda Friesen
23. “Feels Right Exegesis: Qualitative Research on How Millennials Read the Bible” by J. Derrick Lemons
24. “Crowning the King: The Use of Production and Reception Studies to Determine the Most Popular English-Language Bible Translation in Contemporary America” by Paul Gutjahr
25. “Literalism as Creativity: Making a Creationist Theme Park, Reassessing a Scriptural Ideology” by James S. Bielo
26. “The Bible in the Evangelical Imagination” by Daniel Silliman
27. “Feeling the Word: Sensing Scripture at Salvation Mountain” by Sara M. Patterson

Part Four: Retrospective
28. “The Bible: Then and Now” by Mark Noll

Engberg, “Walking on the Pages of the Word of God”

Engberg, Aron. 2016. Walking on the Pages of the Word of God: Self, Land, and Text among Evangelical Volunteers in Jerusalem. Doctoral Dissertation, Centre for Theology and Religious Studies. Lund, Sweden: Lund University. 

Excerpt: During the last 30 years, the Evangelical relationship with the State of Israel has drawn much academic and popular attention, particularly from historical, theological, and political perspectives. This dissertation engages with this literature but also complements it with an ethnographic account of the discursive practices of Evangelical Zionists through which, it is suggested, much of the religious significance of the contemporary state is being produced. The study is based on ethnographic fieldwork among Evangelical volunteer workers in Jerusalem, focusing on their stories about themselves, the land, and the biblical text.

Perrin, “The Bible Reading of Young Evangelicals”

Perrin, Ruth H. 2016. The Bible Reading of Young Evangelicals: An Exploration of the Ordinary Hermeneutics and Faith of Generation Y. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Publisher’s Description:  Young evangelicals in Britain often find themselves at odds with an increasingly secular society, and yet the tradition persists and in some places flourishes. Sociological studies into the faith of this demographic group are rare, yet there is much to be explored as to how their faith functions and how it compares to other groups globally. Similarly, given the privilege evangelicals afford the biblical text, how young believers engage with the ancient Scriptures they understand to be “the word of God” is particularly significant. This work addresses that core question. How do young evangelicals make sense of the Bible today? Based on qualitative data gathered from three diverse evangelical churches it compares the reading priorities, ordinary hermeneutics, and theological concerns of young adults. Presenting age-related focus groups with challenging biblical narratives, the study compares strategies for negotiating the texts based on age, gender, and churchmanship. It provides a unique insight into the realities of Bible reading and the faith of “Generation Y” and gives food for thought not only to those with scholarly interests, but also those with a pastoral concern to shape and sustain the Christian faith of young adults in Britain and beyond.

MacLochlainn, “Divinely Generic”

MacLochlainn, Scott. 2015. Divinely Generic: Bible Translation and the Semiotics of Circulation. Signs and Society 3(2): 234-260.

Abstract: In this article I examine the practice of Bible translation and the underlying sets of Christian ideologies regarding the commensurability of linguistic forms. Based on ethnographic research conducted at a biannual Bible translation workshop in Mindoro, Philippines, in 2013, during which the Bible was translated into three Mangyan languages, I argue that the degree to which the actual linguistic forms in the scriptures are divinely inspired often exists as an irresolvable semiotic problem for Bible translators. To this end, I discuss the means through which the Holy Spirit is taken as an essential mediator between the fallible work of Christian translators and the Bible as a language-instantiated form of God’s presence. I show how the employment of “generic” language by Christian translators enables them to mirror and circulate the divine universality of scriptural meaning in earthly form. I propose that generic language can be viewed as a site in which multiple and often conflicting claims of language universality and purity are present.

Bielo, “Materializing the Bible”

Bielo James. 2016. Materializing the Bible: Ethnographic Methods for the Consumption Process. Practical Matters 9. 

Abstract: Throughout the world there are over 200 sites that materialize the Bible, that is, sites that transform the written words of biblical scripture into physical, experiential attractions. These sites are definitively hybrid, integrating religion and entertainment, piety and play, fun and faith, commerce and devotion, pleasure and education. Religious studies scholars and anthropologists have published insightful works about selected sites, but no genre-wide analytical appraisal exists. In this article, I focus on how religiously committed visitors approach and experience these sites. Framed in a comparative register with research in religious tourism and pilgrimage studies, I propose analytical and methodological frameworks for the ethnographic study of Bible-based attractions.

Cezula, “Reading the Bible in an African Context”

Cezula, Ntozakhe. 2015. Reading the Bible in the African context: Assessing Africa’s love affair with prosperity Gospel. Stellenbosch Theological Journal 1(2): 131–153.

Abstract: The aim of this article is to examine Bible reading in the African context and the willingness and enthusiasm to embrace prosperity gospel in Africa. To achieve this objective, a discussion on the developments in biblical interpretation in Africa will first be presented. This will be done by examining three historical periods: colonial, independence and democratisation periods. This will be followed by an outline of migrations that have taken place from traditional religions to different versions of Christianity in different times in Africa. These migrations will be examined in connection with Bible translation. The relationship between prosperity gospel and African people in Africa will be discussed by considering the tools prosperity gospel uses to appeal to African people, namely the religio-cultural and socio-economic factors. The article will then provide its assessment of contextual reading in the prosperity gospel and a conclusion will follow.

Webster, “Objects of Transcendence”

Abstract: How are objects used differently within different types of Protestantism? Proceeding from this question, this short anthropological essay takes as its ethnographic point of departure two apparently contrasting deployments of the Bible within contemporary Scotland, one as observed among Brethren and Presbyterian fisher-families in Gamrie, coastal Aberdeenshire, and the other as observed among the Orange Order, a Protestant marching fraternity, in Airdrie and Glasgow. By examining how and with what effects the Bible (as text and object) enters into and extends beyond the everyday practices of fishermen and Orangemen, I sketch some aspects of the material life of Scottish Protestantism that have hitherto been overlooked. The tendency to downplay the role of objects within Protestantism seems, in part, to be the result of an ideal-typical insistence that this religion—especially in Scotland and the Global North—remains transfixed by a thoroughly anti-material asceticism.1 This tacit assumption, which emerged within anthropology as the result of an overly hasty reading of Max Weber, continues to haunt ethnographic and theoretical framings of both Protestantism and modernity, either through their relative silence on the subject, or by treating (modern, Protestant) objects as somehow exceptional and novel.

Løland, “The Position of the Biblical Canon in Brazil”

Løland, Ole Jakob.  2015. The Position of the Biblical Canon in Brazil: From Catholic Rediscovery to Neo-Pentecostal Marginalisation.  Studies in World Christianity 21(2): 98-118.

Abstract: This study analyses the historically significant shifts in the diffusion and reception of the bible in Brazilian Christianity. It questions whether Brazil is turning Protestant, given the marginalisation in Brazilian neo-Pentecostalism of scripture, which is the fundamental pillar of Protestant faith. While scripture has traditionally been marginal to Brazil’s popular Catholicism, it was regarded as the primary medium for access to the sacred in classical Pentecostalism. Whilst Brazilian Catholicism rediscovered the bible through the liberation theology movement, a contrary trend of marginalisation of scripture is evident in the Brazilian neo-Pentecostal church Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (IURD). Although there is a performative use of the bible in IURD, the original meaning of the biblical texts is given little weight within this performance. Based on this evaluation of the bible’s position, the article suggests that neo-Pentecostalism stands in continuity with popular Catholicism and discontinuity with classical Pentecostalism in relation to the biblical canon.

Friedner, “Affective Audits in South India”

Friedner, Michele. 2015. Understanding Sign Language Bibles through Affective Audits. Ethnos 1-22. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2015.1031264

Abstract: This article analyses the role that the emic category of understanding plays in creating new forms of personhood and new worlds for sign language using deaf people in south India. As an ethnographic study of the production, dissemination, and circulation of Indian Sign Language Bible DVDs by an international non-denominational Christian missionary organization, this article analyses how the power of sign language as heart language lies in the potentiality of becoming a fluent signer and a member of a deaf sociality. Bringing the Anthropology of Christianity in conversation with the Anthropology of deafness/sign language studies, this article argues that anthropologists have ignored practices of verifying understanding in our interlocutors. In utilizing the concept of affective audits, this article analyses the practices by which understanding comes to take place. In addition, this article also argues that anthropologists must attend to how research on sensory formations might be presuming a ‘normal’ sensing body.

Bacigalupo, “The potency of indigenous “bibles” and biographies”

Bacigalupo, Ana, 2014. The potency of indigenous ‘bibles’ and biographies: Mapuche shamanic literacy and historical consciousness. American Ethnologist. 41(4):648–663.

Abstract: Mapuche oral shamanic biographies and performances—some of which take the form of “bibles” and involve shamanic literacies—play a central role in the production of indigenous history in southern Chile. In this article, I explain how and why a mixed-race Mapuche shaman charged me with writing about her life and practice in the form of such a “bible.” This book would become a ritual object and a means of storing her shamanic power by textualizing it, thereby allowing her to speak to a future audience. The realities and powers her “bible” stored could be extracted, transformed, circulated, and actualized for a variety of ends, even to bring about shamanic rebirth. Ultimately, I argue, through their use and interpretation of this kind of “bible,” Mapuche shamans expand academic notions of indigenous history and literacy.