Crawley, “Blackpentecostal Breath”

Crawley, Ashon T. 2016. Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: In this profoundly innovative book, Ashon T. Crawley engages a wide range of critical paradigms from black studies, queer theory, and sound studies to theology, continental philosophy, and performance studies to theorize the ways in which alternative or “otherwise” modes of existence can serve as disruptions against the marginalization of and violence against minoritarian lifeworlds and possibilities for flourishing.

Examining the whooping, shouting, noise-making, and speaking in tongues of Black Pentecostalism―a multi-racial, multi-class, multi-national Christian sect with one strand of its modern genesis in 1906 Los Angeles―Blackpentecostal Breath reveals how these aesthetic practices allow for the emergence of alternative modes of social organization. As Crawley deftly reveals, these choreographic, sonic, and visual practices and the sensual experiences they create are not only important for imagining what Crawley identifies as “otherwise worlds of possibility,” they also yield a general hermeneutics, a methodology for reading culture in an era when such expressions are increasingly under siege.

Ikeuchi, “From ethnic religion to generative selves”

Ikeuchi, Suma. 2017. “From ethnic religion to generative selves: Pentecostalism among Nikkei Brazilian migrants in Japan,” Contemporary Japan, 1-16. Early online publication. DOI: 10.1080/18692729.2017.1351046

Abstract: Starting in the early 1990s, Brazil-derived Pentecostal denominations have flourished among Nikkei Brazilian migrant communities in Japan. While some researchers have characterized the phenomenon of Pentecostal conversion in this ethnographic context as a formation of ‘ethnic religion,’ the individuals often characterize themselves as primarily Christian. This article takes this apparent disconnect as the point of departure to investigate the relationship between ethnicity and religious identity. The concept of ethnic religion indicates an overlap between ethnic group and religious community, oftentimes prioritizing ethnic categories as the basic units of analysis. My ethnographic findings based on 14 months of fieldwork in Toyota, Japan, however, suggest that the very boundary of ‘ethnic group’ is fluid and unstable, which in turn shows that ethnicity cannot be taken as an analytical given. By tracing the varying narratives of four migrant converts, I detail the ways in which Pentecostalism in fact contributes to the proliferation of identities, both ethnic and non-ethnic. For example, migrant converts speak of Pentecostal ideas, practices, and networks as ‘Brazilian,’ ‘Japanese,’ and/or ‘just Christian,’ depending on the context. In conclusion, I argue that Pentecostal churches in this ethnographic context seem to give rise to generative selves rather than an ethnic religion.

“Is there such a thing as religious language?”

FORUM: 2015. “Is there such a thing as religious language? Is there such a thing as religion? Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(4): 37-51.

Bialecki, Jon. 2015. Protestant Language, Christian Problems, and Religious Realism. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(4): 37-42.

Excerpt: If there is one thing that can be ticked off as ‘accomplished’ by the nascent anthropology of Christianity, it is cementing the idea that in multiple and disparate ethnographic locales featuring self-designated Protestant and Post-Protestant Christians, there are often shared and religiously inflected ideas about what constitutes effective and ethical language. In places as physically distant as Zimbabwe, Papua New Guinea, Northern Europe and the United States, ethnographers have found patterns in language use and in speech ethics; again and again, we see that the referential aspects of language are celebrated, and that linguistics agency and responsibility is properly placed directly with the ‘sincere’ speaker.


Opas, Minnas. 2015. Religion, Christianity and the Question of Generative Problems: Comment to Jon Bialecki. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(4): 43-47.

Excerpt: The idea of looking at religion through the notion of the generative problem is, I think, a prolific point of departure for comparative work. Nevertheless, instead of looking at religion only through one specific problem, we could ask, what different kinds of generative problems motivate religious traditions?


Utriainen, Terhi. 2015. Language, Presence and Transforming Christianities through the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion: Comment to Jon Bialecki. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(4): 47-51.

Excerpt:  The anthropology and sociology of religion make an interesting couple—a couple that could perhaps have even more conversation and family-life than they have today. From the perspective of the academic study of religion (or ‘religious studies’ as it is often called), which is my home base, anthropology and sociology are often considered two alternative approaches for the empirical study of contemporary religion—approaches to religion as a presence as well as to the presence (or absence) of religion in modernity. Even if they share some classics, Durkheim anyway, these two disciplines are sometimes considered to differ both in their methods (ethnography for anthropology and predominantly quantitative methods for sociology) and their fields and respective theories (non-Western others for anthropology and the religious and secularizing people in the West for sociology). This is, however, changing.


“Ending a Conversation with System R”: Book Review of Nongbri’s “Before Religion.”

Nongbri, Brent. 2013. Before religion : a history of a modern concept. New Haven : Yale University Press.

By: Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)

On its face, Brent Nongbri’s book, Before Religion, is seemingly not about Christianity, but about religion more generally – or more specifically, about the category of religion more generally. Nongbri’s argument is that religion is not a human universal, but rather construction that has both a history and a genealogy (to the degree that those are two separate things).  To Nongbri, this is important because treating religion as a universal has costs in both how the thought of the analyst ends up structuring whatever object he or she is addressing, and in how work is presumably consumed by readers, many of which will come to the term with a lot of baggage attached.

Nongbri avers that religion as currently understood is marked by a set of invariant features: it is about internal experience, takes the individual as the primary unit, is oriented around ideas and sacred texts, is separate from institutions such as government, is effectively private, and is something that is a response to a universal human need – and is therefore presumably also universally present as well. Finally, religion forms identified bodies – the ‘world religions’ such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity – which are all fungible to the extent that they are formally homologous. Because of this common structure, the relation between religion in the abstract and religions in particular is equivalent to the genus/species formulation, or to put it in a metalanguage borrowed from linguistics, religion is the type, and various ‘religions’ are tokens.

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