Roberts, “To Be Cared For: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum”

Roberts, Nathaniel. 2016. To be cared for: the power of conversion and foreignness of belonging in an Indian slum. Oakland, California : University of California Press.

Publisher’s Description: To Be Cared For offers a unique view into the conceptual and moral world of slum-bound Dalits (“untouchables”) in the South Indian city of Chennai. Focusing on the decision by many women to embrace locally specific forms of Pentecostal Christianity, Nathaniel Roberts challenges dominant anthropological understandings of religion as a matter of culture and identity, as well as Indian nationalist narratives of Christianity as a “foreign” ideology that disrupts local communities. Far from being a divisive force, conversion integrates the slum community—Christians and Hindus alike—by addressing hidden moral fault lines that subtly pit residents against one another in a national context that renders Dalits outsiders in their own land.

Klaits & McLean, “Valuing Black Lives: Pentecostalism, charismatic gifts, and human economies in a U.S. inner city”

Klaits, Frederick and Shenita A. McLean. 2015. Valuing Black lives: Pentecostalism, charismatic gifts, and human economies in a U.S. inner city. American Ethnologist 42(4): 610-623. 

Abstract: A common trope in recent Black popular literature compares pastors and pimps on the grounds that both collect money from their dependents. We frame this comparison in terms of regimes of value operating in U.S. inner cities, where the commercial economy and legal system commonly fail to affirm the personhood of the racialized poor. Drawing on fieldwork in Buffalo, New York, we show that in eliciting tithes and protection money, pastors and pimps combine care and exploitation in ways that assert the value of their own and others’ lives against heavy odds. We extend the concept of “human economy” developed by David Graeber to these transactions, arguing that pimps and pastors construe the money they gather in terms of its power to recognize the value of the lives of givers, askers, and receivers.

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.

Bandak, “Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus”

Bandak, Andreas. 2014. Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus: Urban Space and Christian-Muslim Coexistence. Current Anthropology DOI: 10.1086/678409

Abstract: Christians in the Middle East have traditionally clustered around cities. As minorities in a Muslim majority context, difference manifests itself in many ways. In recent decades, the sounds of the city, in the form of calls to prayer from minarets and church bells, have increased, while green and blue lighting likewise crafts a plural setting that is not only audible but visible to all. In this article, I explore Christian ways of inhabiting the city in Damascus, Syria. The orchestration of space is intensifying as the region appears to be becoming an ever more vulnerable place to live for a Christian minority. I argue that an anthropological engagement with Christianity may do well to listen to the particular refrains that are formed in and of the city. Such an engagement attests to the ways in which Christianity is lived in particular locations but also how Christianity is continuously made to matter.

Strhan, “Christianity and the City”

Strhan, Anna. 2014 Christianity and the City: Simmel, Space, and Urban Subjectivities. Religion and Society: Advances in Research. 4(1): 125-149.

Abstract: This article examines the growing scholarly interest in urban religion, situating the topic in relation to the contemporary analytical significance of cities as sites where processes of social change, such as globalization, transnationalism, and the influence of new media technologies, materialize in interrelated ways. I argue that Georg Simmel’s writing on cities offers resources to draw out further the significance of “the urban” in this emerging field. I bring together Simmel’s urban analysis with his approach to religion, focusing on Christianities and individuals’ relations with sacred figures, and suggest this perspective opens up how forms of religious practice respond to experiences of cultural fragmentation in complex urban environments. Drawing on his analysis of individuals’ engagement with the coherence of God, I explore conservative evangelicals’ systems of religious intersubjectivity to show how attention to the social effects of relations with sacred figures can deepen understanding of the formation of urban religious subjectivities.

Flores, “God’s Gangs”

Flores, Edward Orozco. 2013. God’s Gangs: Barrio Ministry, Masculinity, and Gang Recovery. New York: NYU Press.

Release Date: December 11, 2013

Publisher’s Description: Los Angeles is the epicenter of the American gang problem. Rituals and customs from Los Angeles’ eastside gangs, including hand signals, graffiti, and clothing styles, have spread to small towns and big cities alike. Many see the problem with gangs as related to urban marginality—for a Latino immigrant population struggling with poverty and social integration, gangs offer a close-knit community. Yet, as Edward Orozco Flores argues in God’s Gangs, gang members can be successfully redirected out of gangs through efforts that change the context in which they find themselves, as well as their notions of what it means to be a man.  Flores here illuminates how Latino men recover from gang life through involvement in urban, faith-based organizations. Drawing on participant observation and interviews with Homeboy Industries, a Jesuit-founded non-profit that is one of the largest gang intervention programs in the country, and with Victory Outreach, a Pentecostal ministry with over 600 chapters, Flores demonstrates that organizations such as these facilitate recovery from gang life by enabling gang members to reinvent themselves as family men and as members of their community. The book offers a window into the process of redefining masculinity. As Flores convincingly shows, gang members are not trapped in a cycle of poverty and marginality. With the help of urban ministries, such men construct a reformed barrio masculinity to distance themselves from gang life.

Strhan, “The metropolis and evangelical life: coherence and fragmentation in the ‘lost city of London’”

Strhan, Anna. 2013. “The metropolis and evangelical life: coherence and fragmentation in the ‘lost city of London.’” Religion [Pre-Print: DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2013.798164]

Abstract: This article examines the interplay of different processes of cultural and subjective fragmentation experienced by conservative evangelical Anglicans, based on an ethnographic study of a congregation in central London. The author focuses on the evangelistic speaking practices of members of this church to explore how individuals negotiate contradictory norms of interaction as they move through different city spaces, and considers their response to tensions created by the demands of their workplace and their religious lives. Drawing on Georg Simmel’s ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, the author argues that their faith provides a sense of coherence and unity that responds to experiences of cultural fragmentation characteristic of everyday life in the city, while simultaneously leading to a specific consciousness of moral fragmentation that is inherent to conservative evangelicalism.

Cao “Constructing China’s Jerusalem”

Cao, Nanlai (2011) Constructing China’s Jerusalem: Christians, Power, and Place in Contemporary Wenzhou. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Publisher’s Description: Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth life history interviews, this illuminating book provides an intimate portrait of contemporary Chinese Christianity in the context of a modern, commercialized economy. In vivid detail, anthropologist Nanlai Cao explores the massive resurgence of Protestant Christianity in the southeastern coastal city of Wenzhou—popularly referred to by its residents as “China’s Jerusalem”—a nationwide model for economic development and the largest urban Christian center in China.

Cao’s study of Chinese Christians delves into the dynamics of activities such as banqueting, network building, property acquisition, mate selection, marriage ritual, migrant work, and education. Unlike previous research that has mainly looked at older, rural, and socially marginalized church communities, Cao trains his focus on economically powerful, politically connected, moralizing Christian entrepreneurs. In framing the city of Wenzhou as China’s Jerusalem, newly rich Chinese Christians seek not only to express their leadership aspirations in a global religious movement but also to assert their place, identity, and elite status in post-reform Chinese society.

Elisha, “Moral Ambition”

Elisha, Omri (2011) Moral Ambition: Mobilization and Social Outreach in Evangelical Megachurches, Berkeley: University of California Press

Publisher’s Description: In this evocative ethnography, Omri Elisha examines the hopes, frustrations, and activist strategies of American evangelical Christians as they engage socially with local communities. Focusing on two Tennessee megachurches, Moral Ambition reaches beyond political controversies over issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and public prayer to highlight the ways that evangelicals at the grassroots of the Christian Right promote faith-based causes intended to improve the state of social welfare. The book shows how these ministries both help churchgoers embody religious virtues and create provocative new opportunities for evangelism on a public scale. Exploring aspects of evangelical life that are largely overlooked in existing studies, Elisha challenges conventional views of U.S. evangelicalism as narrowly individualistic. Instead he elucidates the inherent conflicts and contradictions that activists face in their efforts to reconcile religious conservatism with a renewed interest in compassion, poverty, racial justice, and urban revivalism.

Bielo, “City of Man, City of God”

James Bielo (2011) “City of Man, City of God: The Re-Urbanization of American EvangelicalsCity and Society 23(s1):2-23

Abstract: In post-World War II America, U.S. Evangelicalism became a religion deeply entrenched with suburbanization and commercial sprawl. This article examines the growing phenomenon of middle-class white Evangelicals who are returning to the city. Since September 2008 I have conducted ethnographic fieldwork with nearly 100 Evangelicals in the post-industrial, Rust Belt cities of Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Middletown. I argue first that Evangelical re-urbanization is structured by two cultural logics: a biting cultural critique of suburban megachurches, and a desire for the “reconciliation” of urban life to “the kingdom of God.” Second, re-urbanized Evangelicals necessarily encounter the dilemmas of late modern urbanism, including structural processes like neighborhood gentrification. I stress the importance of this phenomenon for both the impact of religion on America’s cities and the impact of urban restructuring on American religion.