Swatowiski and Barbosa, “Pentecostalism and the Urban Landless Movement”

Swatowiski, Claudia Wolff and Barbosa, Luciano Senna Peres. “Pentecostalism and the Urban Landless Movement: Political Struggle and Spiritual Battle in Uberlândia, Brazil.” PentecoStudies. 17(1): 77-94. 

Abstract: This article addresses the connection between Pentecostalism and a movement of people who had occupied urban land in an effort to gain legal residence. Based on an investigation of the “Ocupação Glória” land settlement in the city of Uberlândia, Brazil, we analyse the ways in which demands for the right to housing are associated with Pentecostal dynamics and cosmologies. We examine how Pentecostals contribute to a movement to legalize unauthorized settlements in urban space, and establish an overlapping of political struggle and spiritual battle. We also investigate how the practices of evangelical churches in the “Ocupação Glória” at times work in juxtaposition and at times in opposition to other modalities of the social movement that operate in the settlement.

McIvor, “Human Rights and Broken Cisterns”

McIvor, Méadhbh. 2018. “Human Rights and Broken Cisterns: Counterpublic Christianity and Rights-based Discourse in Contemporary England.” Ethnos. 

Abstract: Although human rights are often framed as the result of centuries of Western Christian thought, many English evangelicals are wary of the U.K.’s recent embrace of rights-based law. Yet this wariness does not preclude their use of human rights instruments in the courts. Drawing upon fieldwork with Christian lobbyists and lawyers in London, I argue that evangelical activists instrumentalise rights-based law so as to undermine the universalist claims on which they rest. By constructing themselves as a marginalised counterpublic whose rights are frequently ‘trumped’ by the competing claims of others, they hope to convince their fellow Britons that a society built upon the logic of equal rights cannot hope to deliver the human flourishing it promises. Given the salience of contemporary political conservatism, I call for further ethnographic research into counterpublic movements, and offer my interlocutors’ instrumentalisation of human rights as a critique of the inconsistencies of secular law.

Bielo, “Flower, soil, water, stone”

Bielo, James S. “Flower, soil, water, stone: Biblical landscape items and Protestant materiality.” Journal of Material Culture. First Published June 18, 2018

Protestants mobilize objects such as ‘Holy Land’ flowers, Jordan River stones, vials of Dead Sea water, sand from Lake Tiberias, and Golgotha soil as potent metonymic resources, promising a kind of direct access to the scriptural past and its sacred stories. This article uses this case of biblical landscape items to reflect on the historic ambivalence that characterizes Protestant relations with religious materiality. Building on scholarship that has demonstrated the prolific role of religious materiality in Protestant ritual and everyday lifeworlds, the author extends this analysis by asking: under what conditions do Protestants experience materiality as untroubled and under what conditions is a more anxious disposition activated? To differentiate among conditions, the author proposes that it is helpful to conceptualize Protestant engagements with materiality vis-à-vis legitimized frames (e.g. pedagogy, devotion, evangelism, entertainment). Drawing together archival and ethnographic data, primarily among US Protestants, the article argues that when Protestants function within legitimized frames they are prone to embrace biblical landscape items, but when they find themselves out of frame, their engagement with this particular species of materiality becomes troubled.

Bubandt, “The Empty Seashell”

Bubandt, Nils. 2014. The Empty Seashell: Witchcraft and Doubt on an Indonesian Island. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Publisher’s DescriptionThe Empty Seashell explores what it is like to live in a world where cannibal witches are undeniably real, yet too ephemeral and contradictory to be an object of belief. In a book based on more than three years of fieldwork between 1991 and 2011, Nils Bubandt argues that cannibal witches for people in the coastal, and predominantly Christian, community of Buli in the Indonesian province of North Maluku are both corporeally real and fundamentally unknowable.

Witches (known as gua in the Buli language or as suanggi in regional Malay) appear to be ordinary humans but sometimes, especially at night, they take other forms and attack people in order to kill them and eat their livers. They are seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The reality of gua, therefore, can never be pinned down. The title of the book comes from the empty nautilus shells that regularly drift ashore around Buli village. Convention has it that if you find a live nautilus, you are a gua. Like the empty shells, witchcraft always seems to recede from experience.Bubandt begins the book by recounting his own confusion and frustration in coming to terms with the contradictory and inaccessible nature of witchcraft realities in Buli. A detailed ethnography of the encompassing inaccessibility of Buli witchcraft leads him to the conclusion that much of the anthropological literature, which views witchcraft as a system of beliefs with genuine explanatory power, is off the mark. Witchcraft for the Buli people doesn’t explain anything. In fact, it does the opposite: it confuses, obfuscates, and frustrates. Drawing upon Jacques Derrida’s concept of aporia—an interminable experience that remains continuously in doubt—Bubandt suggests the need to take seriously people’s experiential and epistemological doubts about witchcraft, and outlines, by extension, a novel way of thinking about witchcraft and its relation to modernity.

Premawardhana, “Spirit(s) in Motion”

Premawardhana, Devaka. 2018. “Spirit(s) in Motion: Pentecostalism, Pluralism, and Everyday Life”. PentecoStudies. 17(1): 37-53.

Abstract: Despite its rituals of rupture and discourse of discontinuity, Pentecostalism does not always succeed in dislodging church participants from their pre-existing religious worlds. This paper connects the eclectic, everyday engagements of rank-and-file Pentecostals to a variety of concepts deployed in studies of religious pluralism (e.g. syncretism, hybridity, polyontology, bricolage, and especially the recently theorized butinage). Drawing on empirical evidence from Mozambique, while also glancing comparatively at Brazil, this paper aims to help open new questions regarding Pentecostal religious identity by arguing for the presence of pluralistic impulses within Pentecostalism itself.

Ingalls, Reigersberg, and Sherinian, “Making Congregational Music Local in Christian Communities Worldwide”

Ingalls, Monique, Reigersberg, Muriel Swijghuisen, and Zoe C. Sherinian. 2018. Making Congregational Music Local in Christian Communities Worldwide. New York: Routledge.

Description: What does it mean for music to be considered local in contemporary Christian communities, and who shapes this meaning? Through what musical processes have religious beliefs and practices once ‘foreign’ become ‘indigenous’? How does using indigenous musical practices aid in the growth of local Christian religious practices and beliefs? How are musical constructions of the local intertwined with regional, national or transnational religious influences and cosmopolitanisms?

Making Congregational Music Local in Christian Communities Worldwide explores the ways that congregational music-making is integral to how communities around the world understand what it means to be ‘local’ and ‘Christian’. Showing how locality is produced, negotiated, and performed through music-making, this book draws on case studies from every continent that integrate insights from anthropology, ethnomusicology, cultural geography, mission studies, and practical theology. Four sections explore a central aspect of the production of locality through congregational music-making, addressing the role of historical trends, cultural and political power, diverging values, and translocal influences in defining what it means to be ‘local’ and ‘Christian’. This book contends that examining musical processes of localization can lead scholars to new understandings of the meaning and power of Christian belief and practice.

Pryce, “The Monk’s Cell: Ritual and Knowledge in American Contemplative Christianity

Pryce, Paula. 2018. The Monk’s Cell: Ritual and Knowledge in American Contemplative Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Description: The call to contemplative Christianity is not an easy one. Those who answer it set themselves to the arduous task of self-reformation through rigorous study and practice, learned through the teachings of monks and nuns and the writings of ancient Christian mystics, often in isolation from family and friends. Those who are dedicated can spend hours every day in meditation, prayer, liturgy, and study. Why do they come? Indeed, how do they find their way to the door at all?

Based on nearly four years of research among semi-cloistered Christian monastics and a dispersed network of non-monastic Christian contemplatives across the United States and around the globe, The Monk’s Cell shows how religious practitioners in both settings combined social action and intentional living with intellectual study and intensive contemplative practices in an effort to modify their ways of knowing, sensing, and experiencing the world. Organized by the metaphor of a seeker journeying towards the inner chambers of a monastic chapel, The Monk’s Cell uses innovative “intersubjective fieldwork” methods to study these opaque, interiorized, often silent communities, in order to show how practices like solitude, chant, contemplation, attention, and a paradoxical capacity to combine ritual with intentional “unknowing” develop and hone a powerful sense of communion with the world.

Willis, “It smells like a thousand angels marching”

Willis, Laurie Denyer. 2018. ‘It smells like a thousand angels marching’: The Salvific Sensorium in Rio de Janeiro’s Western Subúrbios. Cultural Anthropology 33(2): 324–348.

Abstract: Based on almost three years of ethnographic research living in Rio de Janeiro’s subúrbios, I consider how the senses comes to matter and how Pentecostalism, margins, smells, and soaps are put to work to construct new kinds of affective space. To do so, I track the way in which a fragrance composed of runoff waste from an international flavor and fragrance company has come to be understood as “pieces of grace,” or divinely given fragments of prosperity. I argue that the forms of racial and spatial governance that enable something like repurposed waste to become pieces of grace form part of a larger story of the sensorium of the subúrbios. In contending with Rio’s racialized urban landscape and how it is sensed and made sense of, I look to what I call the salvific sensorium, a kind of sensed space and territory that exists by engaging the senses with a divine alterity that reconfigures worth and temporality. It is affectively generative, if fleetingly so, and capacious enough to be open to both optimism and its cruelties.

Thornton, “Victims of Illicit Desire”

Thornton, Brendan Jamal. 2018. Victims of Illicit Desire: Pentecostal Men of God and the Specter of Sexual Temptation. Anthropological Quarterly 91(1).

Abstract: For men in the context of urban poverty in the Dominican Republic, Pentecostal conversion may lead to conditions of gender distress: frustration stemming from the challenges of reconciling the conflicting gender ideals of the church with those of the street. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted with members of a Pentecostal community in the town of Villa Altagracia, I discuss how many young men come to experience the initial trials of conversion as tormenting spiritual assaults on their manhood in the form of alluring succubi. At the same time, male converts adopt newly inspired antagonisms with women familiars whom they blame for their illicit desires. Elsewhere I have discussed the strategies Pentecostal men deploy in order to mediate the conflict between barrio masculinity and evangelical Christianity; here I am concerned with illustrating how this conflict is given personal and cultural expression and how the attending experience of gender distress and its symbolic elaboration shapes masculine identity and male subjectivity in the church and local faith communities. By focusing on male converts and their struggles to remain manly, this article contributes to a richer understanding of gender dynamics in Pentecostal churches and offers useful insight into how gender is variously troubled, performed, and remade through conversion and religious practice more broadly.

Dawley, “From Wrestling with Monsters to Wrestling with God”

Dawley, William. 2018. From Wrestling with Monsters to Wrestling with God: Masculinities, ‘Spirituality,’ and the Group-ization of Religious Life in Northern Costa Rica. Anthropological Quarterly 91(1).

Abstract: This piece explores the support group movement’s role in restructuring Latin American religion and contributing to the trans-denominational and trans-secular spread of the “reformation of machismo”—Elizabeth Brusco’s (2010) name for Latin American evangelicalism’s focus on transforming men and masculinity. Using ethnographic data from two years of fieldwork in an urbanizing area of northern Costa Rica and life history interviews with men from three churches and three men’s groups there, this paper argues that a region-wide popular discourse about a “crisis of masculinity/machismo” and a “crisis of the family” has broadened the appeal of efforts to transform men and masculinity—not only among most churches, but especially among a proliferating number of trans-denominational and non-religious men’s groups that are modeled implicitly on all-male Alcoholics Anonymous groups, which are extraordinarily popular throughout Latin America. This essay’s argument borrows from Wuthnow’s analysis of “the restructuring of [North] American religion” under the influence of the support group movement (1988, 1994a, 1994b, 1998), but it also employs an historiographic approach, exploring the origins of this restructuring of Latin American religion in the same “Methodist model” of social organization that has driven evangelical growth throughout the Americas (and men’s conversions especially) during times of social change and male social dislocation (Martin 1990). The conversion histories of two Catholic men are used to illustrate how it is participation in these groups, rather than formal conversion, that transforms many men’s lives, their gender identities, and their relationships with others. Finally, the possible contributions of this research to anthropological studies of religion, ethics, and morality are explored, in particular the role that models of social organization might play in the spread of new ethical practices, discourses, or identity models.