Preaching Prevention: Book Review

Boyd, Lydia. 2015. Preaching prevention: born-again Christianity and the moral politics of AIDS in Uganda. Athens: University of Ohio Press.

By: Anna Eisenstein (University of Virginia)

Lydia Boyd’s Preaching Prevention charts two moments in Uganda’s recent history: the roll-out of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Asking what these two cases have in common, Boyd explores Ugandan born again Christians’ engagement with discourses on sexuality and health in the midst of rapid urbanization, neoliberal global health policies, and the international sexual rights movement. In classic anthropological fashion, she finds that “indigenous moral logics” animate and valorize specific sexual practices in this particular historical and cultural context. Far from a unidirectional “export” of American approaches to care and treatment, Ugandan born-again Christians re-oriented and re-purposed US-directed messages about sexuality and personal agency in light of longstanding, locally relevant models of hierarchal interdependence. By documenting the distinctive motivations of Ugandan Christians, the book forms an important corrective to assumptions that Ugandan Christian attitudes and activisms merely parrot American Christianity, or that the beliefs and interests of American and Ugandan Christians are interchangeable.

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Harr, “Moving Words: Christian Language and the Modern World”

Harr, Adam. 2015. “Moving Words: Christian Language and the Modern World.” Reviews in Anthropology 44(3):161-177.

Abstract: Within the anthropology of Christianity, much attention has been paid to the convergence of Christianity with modern understandings of language. In this essay, I review scholarship that traces the historical connections between modern and Christian views of language, particularly in British colonial attacks on Hindu language practices, and I examine two recent ethnographies that offer different vantage points on the variety of ways in which contemporary Christians use language in a self-consciously modern way.

Strhan, “Aliens & Strangers”

Strhan, Anna. 2015. Aliens & Strangers? The Struggle for Coherence in the Everyday Lives of Evangelicals. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: In this work of qualitative sociology, Anna Strhan offers an in-depth study of the everyday lives of members of a conservative evangelical Anglican church in London. “St John’s” is a vibrant church, with a congregation of young and middle-aged members, one in which the life of the mind is important, and faith is both a comfort and a struggle – a way of questioning the order of things within society and for themselves. The congregants of St John’s see themselves as increasingly counter-cultural, moving against the grain of wider culture in London and in British society, yet they take pride in this, and see it as a central element of being Christian. This book reveals the processes through which the congregants of St John’s learn to understand themselves as “aliens and strangers” in the world, demonstrating the precariousness of projects of staking out boundaries of moral distinctiveness. Through focusing on their interactions within and outside the church, Strhan shows how the everyday experiences of members of St John’s are simultaneously shaped by the secular norms of their workplaces and other city spaces and by moral and temporal orientations of their faith that rub against these. Thus their self-identification as “aliens and strangers” both articulates and constructs an ambition to be different from others around them in the city, rooted in a consciousness of the extent to which their hopes, concerns, and longings are simultaneously shaped by their being in the world.

Occasional Paper: Howell, “19 and Counting: Religion, Gender, and the Hermeneutics of Agency”

19 and Counting: Religion, Gender, and the Hermeneutics of Agency in Liberal America

Brian Howell (Wheaton College)

Editorial Note – This article was written prior to Josh Duggar’s recent admission to having molested unspecified minors twelve years ago, and also to his resignation from the Family Research Council. Points made herein about liberalism, agency, and coercion, though, have much to contribute to current debates regarding this issue. 

Abstract: TLC’s reality show “19 and Counting” (nee 18 and Counting; nee 17 and Counting) follows the Duggar family and their many children and grandchildren through “everyday life.” Described as “conservative Christians,” the show presents insights into the challenges of managing such a large family as well as extended coverage of the particular beliefs and practices of the family, such as the practice of “courtship,” a kind of arranged marriage, strictly limited physical contact prior to marriage, and the practice of rigid gender roles. While this form of conservative/fundamentalist Christianity fits within the scholarly orbit of what Susan Harding termed the “repugnant cultural other,” this reality show has consistently been one of the most popular TLC shows and generated wide-spread celebrity for the family. In this paper I argue that the network employs discourse of liberal freedom and autonomous moral choice to make the presence of an illiberal community in the midst of the United States acceptable, even attractive, to the wider audience. The audience of this TLC program learns very little about the sociality of this form of religion, even as they are inspired to accept and embrace the cultural others in their midst.

The Duggar family is nothing if not adorable. The 19 children of Michelle and “Jim Bob” (James Robert) Duggar are attractive, funny, and opinionated. The cameras of their TLC reality show, “19 Kids & Counting,” frequently turn to 9 year old Jackson and 8 year old Johanna, who offer their wisdom on everything from which of their older sisters will be the first to marry, to how many “bajillions of people” came to the family’s book signing in Harrisburg, PA, and whether their mother will have another baby. Just as frequently, the episodes feature matriarch Michelle calmly recounting the daily activities of homeschooling her large family, and patriarch Jim Bob often chimes in with the challenges of getting everyone to the airport on time to make their trip to New York, or organized for a mission trip to Central America. As a result of their reality-show fame, the Duggar parents have published two books and regularly appear on daytime shows such as Good Morning America and the Today Show. Now in its seventh season on air, 19 Kids and Counting has proven to be one of TLC’s most popular shows.

Although the extraordinary size of the clan is certainly one key to the show’s popularity, the producers highlight a second, and arguably more intriguing aspect of this family, the unusual theology and cultural practices they embody. In the first season of the show, the family self-described during the introduction as having “conservative values,” referring to the fundamentalist Christianity that is a regular feature of each episode. They are shown praying together, attending church, and visiting Christian conferences. Father Jim Bob makes frequent mention of his conviction against being in debt for any purchase, and it is a staple of the show that it is their faith that motivates their commitment to un-restrained fertility. Mother Michelle is very clear that she cedes authority in the family to her husband and views herself as “under his covering.” A popular story arc followed eldest son Josh through his “courtship,” engagement, and marriage to Anna, a young woman from a “like-minded family.” Their relationship and engagement was overseen, and largely arranged, by their fathers. What is remarkable about the popularity of this show is that this fringe theology is not portrayed, nor largely consumed, as a spectacle of a “repugnant” subculture (Harding 1991), but as a beloved and embraced family. How has a religious expression that seemingly runs counter to wider American views of gender, family, and social mores become a mainstream hit known not as a domestic train wreck but as a more fecund, real world Waltons? This article argues that despite the countercultural fundamentalism and conservative gender norms the family embraces, the show serves, through those who accept and those who critique the family, to reinforce the hegemonic ideology of liberal autonomy.[1]

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Occasional Paper: Mikeshin, “Russian Evangelicalism Glocalized”

Russian Evangelicalism Glocalized
Igor Mikeshin (University of Helsinki)

This paper echoes the idea of glocalization of Evangelical Christianity, suggested by Joel Robbins (2004). Robbins marks two simultaneous processes in Pentecostalism and Charismatic (P/C) Christianity as Westernizing homogenization and indigenizing differentiation. I suggest that Russian Evangelicalism’s relation to the Russian culture is glocal in a similar way: “a relationship of both rejection and preservation.” (Robbins 2004: 137) Russian Evangelical congregations, as well as P/C, are also to a great extent autonomous, egalitarian, and focused on evangelism.

Although I place Russian Evangelicalism in the Robbins’ model, there are remarkable differences between those two phenomena, constructing a distinct narrative of glocalization. These differences go beyond denominational features, or even explicit display of the Holy Spirit by P/C, and they rise from the dogmatics. Firstly, the emphasis on the direct interaction with God was spread through the vast activity of P/C missionaries. Initially it took form of planting and growing churches by the Western ministers, which can be also seen in Russia after 1991. However, Russian Evangelical groups, even Pentecostals, originated from the spiritual endeavors of certain Russian intellectuals, most remarkably Ivan Voronaev (Pentecostal) and Ivan Prokhanov (Evangelical Christian). They brought Western teachings to Russia, interpreted and transformed them on the basis of the Russian Bible, and constructed the narrative of response to the Orthodox spiritual monopoly and Russian sociocultural context.

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Brenneman, “Wrestling the Devil”

Brenneman, Robert.  2015.  Wrestling the Devil: Conversion and Exit from Central American Gangs.  Latin American Research Review 49(S): 112-128.

Abstract: A crisis of urban violence has emerged in northern Central America during the past two decades. Although youth gangs are responsible for only a portion of this violence, punitive approaches to dealing with gang violence have sharpened public hostility toward gang members and created a context conducive to the practice of “social cleansing” aimed at reducing gang violence by eliminating gang-affiliated youth through extrajudicial executions. Against this backdrop of public anger and resentment aimed at gang youth, a sizeable number of Evangelical-Pentecostal pastors and lay workers have developed ministries aimed at rescuing gang members and restoring them to society, often making considerable sacrifices and taking personal risks in the process. After describing the difficul-ties and risks associated with leaving the gang, this article takes a sociological approach to gang member conversions to discover the resources that Evangelical-Pentecostal congregations and gang ministries offer to former gang members facing the crisis of spoiled identity. I draw on semistructured interviews conducted in 2007 and 2008 with former gang members and gang ministry coordinators in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and a handful of follow-up interviews conducted in 2013.

Choi-Fitzpatrick, “To seek and save the lost: human trafficking and salvation schemas among American evangelicals”

Choi-Fitzpatrick, Austin. 2014. To seek and save the lost: human trafficking and salvation schemas among American evangelicals. European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology 1(2):119-140.

Abstract: American evangelicals have a history of engagement in social issues in general and anti-slavery activism in particular. The last 10 years have seen an increase in both scholarly attention to evangelicalism and evangelical focus on contemporary forms of slavery. Extant literature on this engagement often lacks the voices of evangelicals themselves. This study begins to fill this gap through a qualitative exploration of how evangelical and mainline churchgoers conceptualize both the issue of human trafficking and possible solutions. I extend Michael Young’s recent work on the confessional schema motivating evangelical abolitionists in the 1830s. Through analysis of open-ended responses to vignettes in a survey administered in six congregations I find some early support for a contemporary salvation schema. It is this schema, I argue, that underpins evangelicals’ framing of this issue, motivates their involvement in anti- slavery work, and specifies the scope of their critique. Whereas antebellum abolitionists thought of their work in national and structural terms contemporary advocates see individuals in need of rescue. The article provides an empirical sketch of the cultural underpinnings of contemporary evangelical social advocacy and a call for additional research.

Kaell, “Born-again seeking: explaining the gentile majority in messianic Judaism”

Kaell, Hillary. 2014. “Born-again seeking: explaining the gentile majority in messianic Judaism.” Religion DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2014.949899 [Digital Pre-Publication]

Abstract:  Messianic Judaism is an American-born movement of congregations that hold evangelical beliefs and follow Jewish practices. Scholars have viewed it chiefly as a new religious movement (NRM) or a controversial branch of Judaism. As a result, they have downplayed or ignored its largely evangelical Christian base. The first study of ‘gentile believers,’ this article argues that Messianic Judaism is best understood through the lens of religious seeking, a trend usually associated with alternative spiritualities and still under-theorized vis-à-vis conservative Christians, like evangelicals. First, it traces why Messianic Judaism appeals to growing numbers of North American Christians. Second, and more broadly, it argues that seeking is a spiritually satisfying religious practice that, for evangelicals, reiterates central themes of born-again life. Their experiences also clarify the limits that may constrain religious seeking; they seek to deepen and actualize a biblical worldview in religious sites viewed as proximate to their own.

 

 

 

The Anthropology of Protestantism: Book Review

Webster, Joseph. 2013. The Anthropology of Protestantism: Faith and Crisis among Scottish Fishermen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

By: Matt Tomlinson (Australian National University)

This book is an innovative attempt to understand the relationship between language and materiality in terms of the Protestant doctrine of consubstantiation, “that view of the Christian Eucharist that attempts to explain the real (material and spiritual) presence of the body and blood of Jesus as existing alongside the real material presence of the bread and the wine” (208). It is anthropology with a theological aura, but also a skillfully crafted ethnography that will appeal to scholars who don’t normally mix the anthro- and the theo-.

Webster’s ethnographic subjects are elderly fishermen and their wives in the northeast Scottish village of Gamrie. They provide a boatload of evidence that they live in a world that is, as the author puts it, both modern and enchanted. Many are members of Brethren churches and radical individualists as well as strict fundamentalists. As individualists, they distrust any authority except their own, leading one critic to characterize their attitude as “every man is his own skipper and he can go wherever he likes” (59; n.b., as they go wherever they like, they are likely to be watched by their neighbors, who keep binoculars at home “to see what others were up to further down the brae” [6]). As fundamentalists, they hold the Bible to be literally true, and they enthusiastically track signs of the end of the world.

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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.