Interview, Fred Klaits and Pastor John

In an effort to engage with new and innovative research in the anthropology of Christianity, AnthroCyBib has invited Fred Klaits to explore a series of conversations he has had with a key research participant, a pastor of an African American Pentecostal church in Buffalo, New York, USA.

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I am currently engaged in a comparative project on Pentecostal insight, focusing on how believers in majority White and African American congregations in Buffalo, New York understand knowledge derived from God as essential to their well-being.  By comparing how Pentecostal believers in largely segregated faith communities attempt to foster well-being, I explore how specific sets of anxieties associated with Whiteness and Blackness lead believers to adopt distinctive methods for obtaining insights from God — what they call “discernment” — into their own and others’ life circumstances.

In November 2016, I invited Pastor John (a pseudonym), the leader of one of the African American congregations I am working with in inner-city Buffalo, to attend a roundtable at the American Anthropological Association meetings in Minneapolis entitled “Towards an Ethnography of God,” where I served as a presenter. Pastor John is a former drug dealer who was saved in 1999, at the age of 19. While serving as a minister under a series of bishops of African American Pentecostal churches, Pastor John developed a gift of prophecy whereby he receives words and visions from God about particular people in attendance at church services or revivals, or about others connected to them who may not be present. In 2011, he founded the nondenominational church I call Victory Gospel, most of whose members are from disadvantaged backgrounds. The church encourages enthusiastic worship and prophetic utterances in keeping with African American Holiness and Pentecostal styles.

Early in 2016, Pastor John called out in church that he was receiving a message from God about me that, he said, “I can’t even articulate. I see you speaking in front of a large group of people, making connections between academic work and God’s word.” Shortly afterwards, I received the invitation to participate in the panel and told Pastor John, whereupon he volunteered to attend the event with me. I felt that his presence and participation at the event would contribute positively to the politics of representation surrounding my ethnographic enterprise.

At the kind invitation of the AnthroCyBib curators, I subsequently recorded conversations with Pastor John about the panel, as well as about experiences of divine “confirmation” of the significance of events that I discussed in my paper. Below are partial transcripts of the conversations, interspersed with my own commentary.

Fred Klaits (SUNY, Buffalo) Continue reading

Brian Howell, interviewed by Joshua Brahinsky

The following is an interview with Brian Howell conducted by Josh Brahinsky in September 2013.

Josh: What motivated this book?

Brian: I would ask students at the beginning of an intro class and would hear about these really extraordinary travel opportunities that they had to places where people don’t normally go: northern Ghana and Mongolia and such places, but what was most striking about it was the ways that they talked about their trips, that they were similar to one another regardless of where they gone in the world including people who gone to Europe versus people who gone to Latin America or remote parts of Asia or Africa. I was struck that something was going on that either these trips had converged in some way, or had been produced in some way. The narratives about them were coming from somewhere, and I was really curious how that happened.

Josh: Was this one of the founding questions of the book? Narrative versus experience, or how was this made? How did this come to be spoken this way?

Brian: When I started doing research into the literature, particularly the anthropology of tourism, I could see that this was an idea many anthropologists have followed up on, looking at how the narratives of particular places shape those experiences of those places. So, what you could call my hypothesis was that the narratives produced around short-term missions were strongly influencing the experience people had of the places that they went when they were calling these short-term missions.
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