Abstract: The image of a violated social contract has long held a distinctive place in African American Christian thought about injustice. This essay discusses the efforts made by members of Pentecostal churches in Buffalo, New York, to enter into forms of contract with God that supersede the broken social contracts they see as devaluing their lives. These believers listen to God’s words as expressed in prophetic utterances for “confirmation” of the significance of events. In their view, “catching the word” through faithful listening enables them to create social commitments on their own terms, whereas their creative capacities are liable to be alienated from them if they listen improperly. Applying David Graeber’s revisionist treatment of “fetishism” as a form of social creativity, this essay explores how believers create their blessings within a dialogic space involving themselves, God, the devil, and pastor- prophets with exceptional abilities to listen to and convey the terms of the divine contract.
Bielo, James. 2015. Literally Creative: Intertextual Gaps and Artistic Agency. In Scripturalizing the Human: The Written as the Political, edited by Vincent L. Wimbush, 21-33. New York, NY; Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Excerpt: “In this chapter I approach Ark Encounter as a grand act of scripturalizing. Following scholarship on the social life of scriptures, an ethnography of this biblical theme park-in-the-making focuses not on scripture as text but on “the signs, material products, ritual practices and performances, expressivities, orientations, ethics, and politics associated with the phenomenon of the invention and uses of ‘scriptures’” (Wimbush 2008: 3). With the example of Ark Encounter, we can add to this list the cultural labor that must be invested to bring new scriptural forms into being. Ark Encounter is scripturalizing imagined, sketched, colored, sculpted, materialized, and engineered. Ark Encounter emerges from a long tradition of scripturalizing performed by a familiar set of scripturalizers: conservative Protestant biblical literalists. What I aim to show in this chapter is that the frame for their work—a religious theme park that promises edification and entertainment in equal doses—requires that scholars seeking to understand Ark Encounter engage in some analytical recalibrating.”
Publisher’s Description: Throughout Brazil, Afro-Brazilians face widespread racial prejudice. Many turn to religion, with Afro-Brazilians disproportionately represented among Protestants, the fastest-growing religious group in the country. Officially, Brazilian Protestants do not involve themselves in racial politics. Behind the scenes, however, the community is deeply involved in the formation of different kinds of blackness—and its engagement in racial politics is rooted in the major new cultural movement of black music.
In this highly original account, anthropologist John Burdick explores the complex ideas about race, racism, and racial identity that have grown up among Afro-Brazilians in the black music scene. By immersing himself for nearly a year in the vibrant worlds of black gospel, gospel rap, and gospel samba, Burdick pushes our understanding of racial identity and the social effects of music in new directions. Delving into the everyday music-making practices of these scenes, Burdick shows how the creative process itself shapes how Afro-Brazilian artists experience and understand their racial identities. This deeply detailed, engaging portrait challenges much of what we thought we knew about Brazil’s Protestants,provoking us to think in new ways about their role in their country’s struggle to combat racism.