Johnson, “If I Give My Soul”

Johnson, Andrew.  2017.  If I Give My Soul: Faith Behind Bars in Rio de Janeiro.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Pentecostal Christianity is flourishing inside the prisons of Rio de Janeiro. To find out why, Andrew Johnson dug deep into the prisons themselves. He began by spending two weeks living in a Brazilian prison as if he were an inmate: sleeping in the same cells as the inmates, eating the same food, and participating in the men’s daily routines as if he were incarcerated. And he returned many times afterward to observe prison churches’ worship services, which were led by inmates who had been voted into positions of leadership by their fellow prisoners. He accompanied Pentecostal volunteers when they visited cells that were controlled by Rio’s most dominant criminal gang to lead worship services, provide health care, and deliver other social services to the inmates. Why does this faith resonate so profoundly with the incarcerated? Pentecostalism, argues Johnson, is the “faith of the killable people” and offers ex-criminals and gang members the opportunity to positively reinvent their public personas. If I Give My Soul provides a deeply personal look at the relationship between the margins of Brazilian society and the Pentecostal faith, both behind bars and in the favelas, Rio de Janeiro’s peripheral neighborhoods. Based on his intimate relationships with the figures in this book, Johnson makes a passionate case that Pentecostal practice behind bars is an act of political radicalism as much as a spiritual experience.

St. Clair, “‘God Even Blessed Me with Less Money’”

St. Clair, George.  2017. ‘God Even Blessed Me with Less Money’: Disappointment, Pentecostalism and the Middle Classes in Brazil.  Journal of Latin American Studies.  Early online publication.

 Abstract: Through shedding light on traditional Pentecostalism in Brazil this article reveals how middle-class people in São Paulo, Brazil, manage disappointment relating to current socio-economic conditions. Ethnographic research on Brazil’s oldest Pentecostal church, which preserves an anachronistic style of practice, shows how people embrace a marginal identity and thereby critique social conditions in the country. In stark contrast to newer forms of Pentecostalism, people featured in this paper respond to an ‘anti-prosperity gospel’, in which failures and setbacks are construed as signs of spiritual purity and development. In a country where a ‘new middle class’ is supposedly finding prosperity, this study shows a religiously-oriented way in which people confront the disappointing gap between the promises of neoliberalism and the realities of jobless growth.

Ikeuchi, “Accompanied Self”

Ikeuchi, Suma.  2017. Accompanied Self: Debating Pentecostal Individual and Japanese Relational Selves in Transnational Japan.  Ethos 45(1): 3-23.

Abstract: While the notion of the individual figures prominently in the debate about Christian personhood, the concept of relational selves has shaped the existing literature on Japanese selfhood. I take this seeming divergence between “individual Christian” and “interdependent Japanese” as the point of departure to probe how Japanese-Brazilian Pentecostal migrants in contemporary Japan understand and experience their sense of self. The article is based on 14 months of fieldwork in Toyota, Japan, which consisted of participant observation, interviews, and surveys among Brazilian and Japanese residents there. The discourses about the category of religion serve as a major source of data to tease out cultural understandings about “the authentic self.” I will argue that Pentecostal personhood does not fit within either the “individual” or the “relational.” The concept of “accompanied self” will then be proposed to accurately capture the kind of self that many migrant converts strive to embody.

Dengah, “Examining Costly Religious Rituals”

Dengah, H.J. Francois II. 2017. Being Part of the Nacao: Examining Costly Religious Rituals in a Brazilian Neo-Pentecostal Church. Ethos 45(1): 48-74.

Abstract: Neo-Pentecostalism is notable for its emphasis on “prosperity theology,” the belief that economic prosperity is available to the faithful. Members give monetary offerings in exchange for later blessings of financial prosperity. Despite the faith’s rapid growth worldwide, the influence of prosperity theology on believers’ lives is still being understood. This mixed-method study examines Brazilian neo-Pentecostal rituals through the dual paradigms of religious signaling and cognitive dissonance theory. Signaling theory posits that costly behaviors, such as giving significant sums of money, are honest signs of an individual’s intent toward group cooperation. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that individuals will justify the costly signals required by overvaluing membership in the group. The integration of these two approaches provides a comprehensive model for costly ritual participation by addressing both social and individual motivating factors. This study furthers our understanding of neo-Pentecostalism by examining how prosperity theology rituals influence behaviors, cognitions, and the psychological well-being.

Rivers, “Evangelical fighting ministries”

Rivers, Jessica. 2016. The intimate intensity of Evangelical fighting ministries. Temenos 52(2): 215-237.

Abstract: The author discusses what she learned from her participation in evangelical fighting ministries, paying special attention to how these communities sought to connect with God through interacting with each other. In training with and interviewing the members of these ministries in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the author found that as evangelical Christians, many struggled to establish and maintain the primacy of their personal relationships with God over their interpersonal interests. Yet they also believed their relationships with God were meant to be witnessed and experienced by others. During moments of worship they shared emotional intimacy, granting each other opportunities to make outwardly perceivable their internally felt relationships with God. During their Brazilian jiu-jitsu training, they were encouraged to feel God’s presence as they grappled with each other at very close contact. Using the concept of compartmentalisation, the author analyses how these evangelical fighting ministries demarcated their practices into emotional and physical forms of intimacy, thereby finding different ways to achieve what they perceived as personal contact with God in their intense interactions with each other.

Gidal, “Catholic Music in Lusophone New Jersey”

Gidal, Marc Meistrich Gidal. 2016. Catholic Music in Lusophone New Jersey: Circum-Atlantic Music, Intergroup Dynamics, and Immigrant Struggles in Transnational Communities. American Music 34(2): 180-217.

Excerpt: In this article I explain three main points about music, religion, group dynamics, and transnationalism in this setting. First, the Roman Catholic parishes that serve Portuguese and Brazilians in Newark foster heterogeneous communities shaped by circum-Atlantic movements of people, religious trends, media, and music. Hence, the diverse backgrounds, customs, and tastes of the clergy and parishioners have influenced the musical activities in the parishes with regard to repertories of music, styles of performance, attitudes toward participation, and processes of dissemination. Second, music in worship services can accentuate or mitigate nationalist rivalries and other distinctions among lusophone people in the United States. This musical perspective contributes to social- scientific findings that although relations are tense between Portuguese and Brazilians, and among Brazilians, in Newark and elsewhere, churches provide unique centers for solidarity, social aid, and community building for lusophone immigrants. Third, parish leaders use music, sermons, and special events to support the personal struggles of parishioners, particularly immigrants who face limited opportunities for work and governmental actions against undocumented residents.

van de Kamp, “Violent Conversion”

van de Kamp, Linda.  2016.  Violent Conversion: Brazilian Pentecostalism and Urban Women in Mozambique.  Oxford: James Currey.

Publisher’s Description: There has been an extraordinary growth in Pentecostalism in Africa, with Brazilian Pentecostals establishing new transnational Christian connections, initiating widespread changes not only in religious practice but in society. This book describes its rise in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, and the sometimes dramatic impact of Pentecostalism on women. Here large numbers of urban women are taking advantage of the opportunities Pentecostalism offers to overcome restrictions at home, pioneer new life spaces and change their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Yet, conversion can also mean a violent rupturing with tradition, with family and with social networks. As the pastors encourage women to cut their ties with the past, including ancestral spirits, they come to see their kin and husbands as imbued with evil powers, and many leave their families. Conquering spheres that used to be forbidden to them, they often live alone as unmarried women, sometimes earning more than men of a similar age. They are also expected to donate huge sums to the churches, often money that they can ill afford, bringing new hardships.

Praying and Preying: Book Review

Vilaça, Aparecida. 2016.  Praying and Preying: Christianity in Indigenous Amazonia, translated by David Rodgers. Oakland: University of California Press.

Reviewed by G.E.R. Lloyd (Needham Research Institute, Cambridge UK)

This is a truly remarkable book.  In most anthropological monographs the reader is given a detailed analysis of one particular collectivity, the circumstances of their lives, their kinship relations, social structures, myths, rituals, ways of making sense of the world and of their place in it.  That is certainly what Vilaça here does for the society she has been studying for more than 30 years, the Wari’ who live in what is today the Rondônia province of Brazil.  But a principal theme of this book is the interactions between the Wari’ and the missionaries (Protestants and some Catholics) who have lived among them and attempted, with varying success, to convert them to Christianity.  The Evangelical New Tribes Mission in particular, whose activities date back to the 1940s, may be said to be the subject of a second interlocking ethnographic analysis.  This adds a new dimension to the study of mutual intelligibility with which Vilaça is centrally concerned.  First there is the missionaries’ understanding of the Wari’ (they are not particularly concerned to learn from them or even about them but they certainly wish to get their own message across).  Second there is the Wari’s understanding of the missionaries and of what the missionaries are trying to teach them.  Third there is Vilaça’s own understanding of those divergent understandings and her further entering into dialogue with her fellow anthropologists.  I shall come back to that.

The problem of translation thus takes centre stage, and that takes multiple forms.  This is not just a matter of finding particular terms in one language that will be adequate to convey what is meant by some word in another. This to be sure was a major preoccupation for the missionaries, for what they were hoping to achieve was a rendition of the Word of God, as contained in the Bible, itself interpreted literally.  But for the Wari’ translation was quite different.  Their starting point is that Wari’ is the language spoken by everyone, every living being (and not just humans).  But the same term, used by different agents, may and often does have quite different referents.  The plot thickens when the agents are non-human persons.  When the jaguar drinks the blood of its victims, what the Wari’ see as blood is, for the jaguar, beer.  Of course translating from jaguar perceptions to those of the Wari’ takes special skills, the province of expertise of shamans in particular (though with Christianisation their power has been on the decline).  But the Wari’ in general are used to calling upon what may be thought of as internal dictionaries facilitating translation between jaguars (for example) and the Wari’, and of course also between the missionaries and themselves.  The consequence for reference is radical.  We are used to recognising that for someone to be a ‘father’ implies a relationship with another person, a son or daughter, who makes the father what he is.  But that principle is applied quite generally.  So that ‘blood’ is (only) blood to some agent for whom it is blood.  Indeed, a ‘person’ is only a person in virtue of being seen as a person.

That of course was the central message of the perspectivism proposed by Viveiros de Castro, which the Wari’ instantiate particularly clearly.  But where does that leave Vilaça herself?  On the one hand, she evidently distances herself from the assumptions of the missionaries, that the Word of God sets out a definitive statement of how things are.  On the other, she resists the relativising conclusion that the different understandings of translation, and of terms across languages, effectively rule out any possibility of mutual intelligibility.  That is not a conclusion the Wari’ themselves draw.  On the contrary their perspectivism suggests a particular focus on the efforts needed, and the difficulties likely to be encountered, in the task of translation.

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Smiderle and Mesquita, “Political Conflict and Spiritual Battle”

Smiderle, Carlos Gustavo Sarmet Moreira and Wania Amelia Belchior Mesquita. 2016. Political Conflict and Spiritual Battle: Intersections between Religion and Politics among Brazilian Pentecostals. Latin American Perspectives 43(3): 85-103.

Abstract: A new interpretation of Evangelical actors’ increasing participation in Brazilian political and electoral contests is that elements of Pentecostalism predispose a believer to see the world as the site of an eternal struggle between God and Satan. The belief in demons that have territorial jurisdictions, known as territorial spirits, is one aspect of this theology. The cognitive universe of this belief induces the Evangelical voter to make electoral decisions on the basis of religious premises. It teaches the voter to conceive, without much reflection, the spiritual battle and the electoral game as territorial disputes.

Engler, “Dona Benta’s Rosary”

Engler, Steven.  2015.  Dona Benta’s Rosary: Managing Ambiguity in a Brazilian Women’s Prayer Group.  Journal of the American Academy of Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: This article describes the rituals and beliefs of an upper-class Catholic women’s prayer group in a small city in southeast Brazil. My interest centers on why there is so little friction within the group when it would seem to have several potentially significant internal and external tensions. There are stark doctrinal differences between members: some have very liberal and even syncretic beliefs while others express very conservative, exclusive Catholic beliefs. At the same time, the group—despite certain unorthodox beliefs and practices—maintains close relations with representatives of the local Catholic Church and prays jointly on occasion with an evangelical group. I suggest that four aspects of the group allow it to manage ambiguity in ways that prevent tensions: relations between charisma and doctrine, levitas, flexible framing, and sociodoxy. These concepts emerge from the study’s grounded theoretical approach.