Klaver, Roeland, Versteeg, Stoffels and van Mulligen, “God changes people.”

Klaver, Miranda, Johan Roeland, Peter Versteeg, Hijme Stoffels and Remco van Mulligen. 2017. “God changes people: modes of authentication in Evangelical conversion narratives,” Journal of Contemporary Religion, 32(2): 237-251.

Abstract: One of the distinguishing characteristics of Evangelicalism is the conversion story. In this article we focus on the conversion stories of interviewees within the setting of several related Evangelical television programs broadcast in the Netherlands since the 1980s. We argue that the conversion story is construed through a particular view on and practice of authenticity. Thus we see that, in the televised conversion story, modes of authentication are at work in what we analytically distinguish as frames, narratives, and strategies of authentication. We argue that the idea of an authentic transformation has changed from a more fundamentalist mode of authentication, emphasizing the subjection of the self to a particular religious narrative, to a more expressive mode of authentication that emphasizes the exploration of the inner, unique self of the interviewee.

Abdel-Fadil, “Conflict and Affect”

Abdel-Fadil, Mona. 2016. Conflict and Affect among Conservative Christians on Facebook. Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 11:1-27.

Abstract: Drawing on the ethnographic study of the Norwegian Facebook group Yes to wearing the cross whenever and wherever I choose, this article focuses on the emotive performance of conflict. The author delves into the multitude of ways in which emotion appears to drive the conflict(s) in Yes to wearing the cross whenever and wherever I choose. This Facebook group, by virtue of dealing with religion and identity issues contains typical trigger themes, which may lead audiences to emotively enact conflict. Still, these modes of enactment of conflict cannot be understood as a characteristic of religious strife alone. Drawing on Papacharissi’s concept of ‘affective publics’ this article compares the modes of conflict performance, the most salient frames, trigger themes, and emotive cues in this Facebook group to findings from other studies about mediatized conflict. The analysis demonstrates that mediatized conflicts appear to be emotively performed in very similar, at times even identical ways, across a variety of themes and contexts. Participatory media audiences’ tendency to remediate conflicts in ways that draw on an abundance of emotional cues appears to be integral to the enactment of mediatized conflicts. It is argued that we ought to speak not only of affective publics but also of the politics of affect.

Elisha, “Saved by a Martyr”

Omri Elisha, 2016. “Saved by a Martyr: Evangelical Mediation, Sanctification, and the “Persecuted Church” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 84(4): 1056-1080.
Abstract:This article examines the significance of mediation in the public programming and activism of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), an organization that offers international aid and advocacy to Christians identified as victims of persecution. Focusing on VOM’s efforts to rally Westerners, especially evangelical Protestants, I argue that the antipersecution movement urges supporters to share the mantle of martyrdom by engaging in purposeful acts of religious mediation, including the consumption and circulation of martyrological media. I explore a related tendency among evangelicals to valorize non-Western Christians in precarious circumstances as exemplars of self-sacrificing piety, whose suffering represents and inspires conditions of sanctification. Drawing on media analysis and fieldwork, I explore how practices of mediation, as forms of “witness,” invite evangelicals to embody otherwise elusive virtues and modes of agency associated with Christian martyrs, while reflecting ambiguous modern conceptions of the nature of embodied suffering and the relationship between vulnerability and power.

Sensational Movies: Book Review

Meyer, Birgit. 2015. Sensational Movies: Video, Vision, and Christianity in Ghana. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

By John Durham Peters and Gavin Feller (University of Iowa)

One of the most exciting things about the anthropology of Christianity is the way it uses the minutiae of practices in out of the way cultures to cast light on ancient and deep philosophical and religious questions. To think about will and personhood, one can turn equally to St. Augustine and to Joel Robbins’ Urapmin. To think about translation and denominational schism, one can turn equally to Martin Luther and to Courtney Handman’s Guhu-Samane Christians. (Like the Urapmin, they live in New Guinea.) The anthropology of Christianity likes to coax theologizing from its armchair and show it at work in the wild, in the field, in vernacular forms.

Birgit Meyer’s Sensational Movies is a worthy contribution in this project. Amassing and integrating over two decades of her research, the book shows, as we will see, how richly the film culture of south Ghana treats the theological problem of necessary but productive evil and the theoretical problem of the ontology of the photographic or cinematic image. The producers, actors, and audiences she has worked with over the years may not be trained religious thinkers or media theorists, but their constant meditations about the occult, about the nature of acting, the power of the image, and the willing suspension of disbelief show them to have rich ideas about how media can form entities in this world and the world beyond. The resulting book is a major contribution to the interdisciplinary sweet spot where religion, media, and cultural anthropology converge. Continue reading

Bielo, “Literally Creative”

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.”

Bekkering, “Drag Queens and Farting Preachers”

Bekkering, Denis. 2015. Drag Queens and Farting Preachers: American Televangelism, Participatory Media, and Unfaithful Fandoms. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Religious Studies. Waterloo, Canada: University of Waterloo.

Abstract: Studies of religion and fandom have generally considered sincere devotion a fundamental point of contact between the two cultural phenomena, an assumption not reflected in fan studies proper. This dissertation aims to expand the scope of research on religion and fandom by offering cultural histories of “unfaithful” fan followings of three controversial American televangelists – Robert Tilton, Tammy Faye Bakker/Messner, and Jim Bakker – dating from the 1980s to 2012, and consisting of individuals amused by, rather than religiously affiliated with, their chosen television preachers. It is argued that through their ironic, parodic, and satirical play with celebrity preachers widely believed to be religious fakes, these unfaithful fans have engaged in religious work related to personal and public negotiations of authentic Christianity. Additionally, it is demonstrated that through their activities, and in particular through their media practices, these fans have impacted the brands and mainstream representations of certain televangelists, and have provoked ministry responses including dismissal, accommodation, and counteraction.

Blanton, “Hittin’ the Prayer Bones.”

Blanton, Anderson. 2015. Hittin’ the Prayer BonesMateriality of Spirit in the Pentecostal South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 

Publisher’s description: In this work, Anderson Blanton illuminates how prayer, faith, and healing are intertwined with technologies of sound reproduction and material culture in the charismatic Christian worship of southern Appalachia. From the radios used to broadcast prayer to the curative faith cloths circulated through the postal system, material objects known as spirit-matter have become essential since the 1940s, Blanton argues, to the Pentecostal community’s understanding and performances of faith.

Hittin’ the Prayer Bones draws on Blanton’s extensive site visits with church congregations, radio preachers and their listeners inside and outside the broadcasting studios, and more than thirty years of recorded charismatic worship made available to him by a small Christian radio station. In documenting the transformation and consecration of everyday objects through performances of communal worship, healing prayer, and chanted preaching, Blanton frames his ethnographic research in the historiography of faith healing and prayer, as well as theoretical models of materiality and transcendence. At the same time, his work affectingly conveys the feelings of horror, healing, and humor that are unleashed in practitioners as they experience, in their own words, the sacred, healing presence of the Holy Ghost.

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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Stewart, “The “Almost” Territories of the Charismatic Christian Internet”

Stewart, Anna Rose.  2015. The “Almost” Territories of the Charismatic Christian Internet.  In The Changing World Religion Map.  Stanley D. Brunn, ed.  Pp. 3899-3912.  Amsterdam: Springer Netherlands.

Abstract:

The constantly emerging technologies of the internet are frequently described in terms that evoke space. As online technologies continue to grow in their global ubiquity, it is appropriate to consider how the virtual geographies that are conjured in online engagement extend beyond the web browser. This chapter builds upon anthropological approaches studying religious communication to consider how internet engagement with some religious Believers creates and provides a sense of presence in an inspirited world. I first discuss how anthropologists approached the relationship between religious communication and space before considering Charismatic Christians in the UK. Following 12 months of fieldwork in their churches in the South of England, I describe a range of everyday internet practices and the spiritual implications held by my informants. The key finding is that the technologies of the internet provide for Believers contexts in which they are able to perceive and directly experience the dimensions of their spiritual battles. While British Christianity continues to suffer steady decline, web-based resources allow Christians opportunities to experience connections with others as part of an unstoppable, global, wave of revival. This sense of sanctified online community is tempered by knowledge that words transmitted in some online contexts may be witnessed by non-Believers. While this knowledge is mostly welcomed by members, shared spaces such as Facebook or Youtube can become sites for spiritually hazardous confrontations. In their engagement with online media these Christians experience online comments lists, blog entries, and social networking platforms as sites in which struggles for global, national, and personal salvation are staged and restaged. For these Christians, the spaces of the internet come to be experienced as territories in constant transition.

Hackett and Soares (eds), “New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa”

Hackett, Rosalind I. J. and Benjamin F. Soares.  2014.  New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Publisher’s Description:New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa casts a critical look at Africa’s rapidly evolving religious media scene. Following political liberalization, media deregulation, and the proliferation of new media technologies, many African religious leaders and activists have appropriated such media to strengthen and expand their communities and gain public recognition. Media have also been used to marginalize and restrict the activities of other groups, which has sometimes led to tension, conflict, and even violence. Showing how media are rarely neutral vehicles of expression, the contributors to this multidisciplinary volume analyze the mutual imbrications of media and religion during times of rapid technological and social change in various places throughout Africa.

Table of Contents: Acknowledgments

Foreword
Francis B. Nyamnjoh

Introduction: New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa
Rosalind I. J. Hackett & Benjamin F. Soares

Part I. “Old” Media: Print and Radio
1. A History of Sauti ya Mvita (“Voice of Mombasa”): Radio, Public Culture, and Islam in Coastal Kenya, 1947-1966
James R. Brennan
2. Between Standardization and Pluralism: The Islamic Printing Market and its Social Spaces in Bamako, Mali
Francesco Zappa
3. Binary Islam: Media and Religious Movements in Nigeria
Brian Larkin
4. Muslim Community Radio Stations: Constructing and Shaping Identities in a Democratic South Africa
Muhammed Haron

Part II. New Media and Media Worlds
5. Mediating Transcendence: Popular Film, Visuality, and Religious Experience in West Africa
Johannes Merz
6. The Heart of Man: Pentecostalist Emotive Style in and beyond Kinshasa’s Media World
Katrien Pype
7. Islamic Communication and Mass Media in Cameroon
Hamadou Adama
8. “We Are on the Internet:” Contemporary Pentecostalism in Africa and the New Culture of Online Religion
J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu
9. Conveying Islam: Arab Islamic Satellite Channels as New Players
Ehab Galal
10. Religious Discourse in the New Media: A Case Study of Pentecostal Discourse Communities of SMS Users in South-western Nigeria
‘Rotimi Taiwo

Part III. Arenas of Exchange, Competition, and Conflict
11. Media Afrikania: Styles and Strategies of Representing “Afrikan Traditional Religion” in Ghana
Marleen de Witte
12. Senwele Jesu: Gospel Music and Religious Publics in Nigeria
Vicki L. Brennan
13. Managing Miracles: Ambiguities in the Regulation of Religious Broadcasting in Nigeria
Asonzeh Ukah
14. Living across Digital Landscapes: Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and an Indian Guru in Ethiopia
Samson A. Bezabeh
15. Zulu Dreamscapes: Senses, Media, and Authentication in Contemporary Neo-shamanism
David Chidester