Biblical Porn: Book Review

Johnson, Jessica. 2018. Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Evangelical Empire. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Reviewed by: Brendan Jamal Thornton (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Depending on what you are looking for, the title of Jessica Johnson’s 2018 volume from Duke University Press may be a bit misleading: you need not be home alone or draw the curtains closed in order to crack the spine of this thoughtful text which is based on a decade of comprehensive ethnographic research on Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and its shock jock pastor Mark Driscoll. From 1996 to 2014, Driscoll built an evangelical empire whose quick ascent to national prominence was matched only by its precipitous fall from grace following a series of scandals that would topple the church and sully its reputation. Distinguishing himself as a provocateur through controversial teachings on marriage and relationships, Driscoll’s relatively novel brand of mondo evangelical theology won him both celebrity and notoriety among white middle-class Americans who found his signature sermonizing on sex to be as compelling as it was titillating. According to Johnson, Driscoll’s appeal lay in his rhetorical talents and “gift” for hyperbole, skills that for over a decade routinely seduced audiences who were at once stirred and troubled by his unorthodox preaching on “biblical oral sex,” and other salacious topics. Continue reading

Hager, “The emergence of a Syriac Orthodox Mayan Church in Guatemala”

Hager, Anna. 2019. “The emergence of a Syriac Orthodox Mayan Church in Guatemala.” International Journal of Latin American Religions https://doi.org/10.1007/s41603-019-00083-1

Abstract: The establishment of a Syriac Orthodox archdiocese in Guatemala (including other countries in Latin America) in 2013 further complicated an already fragmented Guatemalan religious landscape. Under the leadership of a former Roman Catholic priest, now a Syriac Orthodox bishop, a religious renewal movement emerged in 2003, which was excommunicated in 2006 by the Roman Catholic Church. In 2013, the movement joined the Syriac Orthodox Church, whose Patriarch resides in Damascus, Syria. Members of this archdiocese are almost exclusively Mayan in origin, mostly live in poor, rural areas, and display charismatic-type practices. The communities that first joined this movement were located in areas severely affected by the armed conflict (1960–1996); but it subsequently attracted more diverse communities, including the cofradías (religious lay brotherhoods). This article studies the emergence of a Syriac Orthodox Church (SOC) in Guatemala, and argues that becoming Syriac Orthodox allowed these diverse communities to reconcile different aspects of their local world (traditional and charismatic practices, enhanced lay leadership, local Mayan identity) and its very shortcomings increased its attractiveness. This paper adopts a multi-disciplinary approach and draws upon diverse sources, including fieldwork in Guatemala and Los Angeles, to capture voices both inside and outside the archdiocese. While the Pentecostal and Catholic Charismatic movements in Guatemala have already attracted scholarly attention, the appearance of Orthodox Christianity on a large scale raises new questions.

Dilger, Bochow, Burchardt, Wilhelm-Soloman, “Affective Trajectories”

Dilger, Hansjörg, Astrid Bochow, Marian Burchardt, and Matthew Willhelm-Soloman. 2020. Affective Trajectories: Religion and Emotion in African Cityscapes. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Abstract: The contributors to Affective Trajectories examine the mutual and highly complex entwinements between religion and affect in urban Africa in the early twenty-first century. Drawing on ethnographic research throughout the continent and in African diasporic communities abroad, they trace the myriad ways religious ideas, practices, and materialities interact with affect to configure life in urban spaces. Whether examining the affective force of the built urban environment or how religious practices contribute to new forms of attachment, identification, and place-making, they illustrate the force of affect as it is shaped by temporality and spatiality in the religious lives of individuals and communities. Among other topics, they explore Masowe Apostolic Christianity in relation to experiences of displacement in Harare, Zimbabwe; Muslim identity, belonging, and the global ummah in Ghana; crime, emotions, and conversion to neo-Pentecostalism in Cape Town; and spiritual cleansing in a Congolese branch of a Japanese religious movement. In so doing, the contributors demonstrate how the social and material living conditions of African cities generate diverse affective forms of religious experiences in ways that foster both localized and transnational paths of emotional knowledge.

Ikeuchi, “Jesus Loves Japan”

Ikeuchi, Suma. 2019. Jesus Loves Japan: Return Migration and Global Pentecostalism in a Brazilian Diaspora. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 

Abstract: After the introduction of the “long-term resident” visa, the mass-migration of Nikkeis (Japanese Brazilians) has led to roughly 190,000 Brazilian nationals living in Japan. While the ancestry-based visa confers Nikkeis’ right to settlement virtually as a right of blood, their ethnic ambiguity and working-class profile often prevent them from feeling at home in their supposed ethnic homeland. In response, many have converted to Pentecostalism, reflecting the explosive trend across Latin America since the 1970s. Jesus Loves Japan offers a rare window into lives at the crossroads of return migration and global Pentecostalism. Suma Ikeuchi argues that charismatic Christianity appeals to Nikkei migrants as a “third culture”—one that transcends ethno-national boundaries and offers a way out of a reality marked by stagnant national indifference. Jesus Loves Japan insightfully describes the political process of homecoming through the lens of religion, and the ubiquitous figure of the migrant as the pilgrim of a transnational future.

 

McIvor, “Rights and Relationships: Rhetorics of Religious Freedom among English Evangelicals”

McIvor, Méadhbh. 2019. “Rights and Relationships: Rhetorics of Religious Freedom among English Evangelicals.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, lfz029. 

Abstract: This paper uses evangelical reflections on the meaning of “rights” to explore the juridification of religion in contemporary England. Drawing on sixteen months of participatory fieldwork with evangelicals in London, I argue that English evangelicals’ critiques of Christian-interest litigation reflect the interaction of local theologies with developments in the law’s regulation of religion, developments that have contributed to the relativization of Protestant Christianity even as historic church establishment is maintained. Through an exploration of the tension between the goals of (rights-based) individualism and (Christian) relationalism as they concern the law, I show how litigation can affect religious subjectivity even in the absence of a personal experience with the pageantry of the court.

Antohin, “Preserving the Intangible: Orthodox Christian Approaches to Spiritual Heritage”

Antohin, A.S. Preserving the Intangible: Orthodox Christian Approaches to Spiritual Heritage. Religions 2019, 10, 336.

Abstract: This article presents the ways Orthodox countries form their own discourses for heritage representation and observes how these practices interact with emerging tourism and preservation agendas. Recent history of heritage tourism in Russia and Ethiopia provides insights into how participants engage with the spiritual heritage of their Churches and the contemporary dilemmas produced when orienting towards preservation protocols that seek to safeguard heritage and make it palatable to a global audience. The Ethiopian case study of Meskel, the festival of the Finding of the True Cross, a UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) intangible cultural heritage entry in 2014, is examined in order to identify key issues when spiritual heritage is situated in preservation management discourse. The discussion concludes by considering a vital component of preservation efforts contained within Orthodox Churches and proposes that indigenous approaches to the elaboration and circulation of cultural values be an essential component of heritage policies.

 

Schultz, “The Christian Fetish”

Schultz, Callan. (2019) ‘The Christian Fetish: Modernity, Whiteness and the Christian Imaginary in Malaysia’. Ethnos. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2019.1626467.

Abstract:  The 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) scandal and 2018 elections brought the corruption and nepotism of Malaysian politics to international attention. For my Christian Dusun interlocutors in the Ranau hinterlands of Sabah, Malaysia, one effect of corruption, as well as state-driven ‘Islamisation’, is that many people no longer trust their government, the moral failings of which are viewed as unchristian. Crucially, Western liberal democracies are often imagined as being both Christian and white, stimulating optimistic interpretations of racial whiteness. In this article, I employ theories of the fetish to unveil the inspired ‘cultural criticism’ that emerges at the interface of two social worlds (Spyer, Patricia. 1988. Introduction. In Border Fetishisms: Material objects in unstable spaces, edited by Patricia Spyer, pp. 1–12. Psychology Press; Graeber, David. 2005. Fetishism as Social Creativity or, Fetishes are Gods in the Process of Construction. Anthropological Theory, 5(4):407–438). The affective relations between people, images and ideas in postcolonial Ranau contributed to the construction of my embodied racial identity, orang putih (white person), which was fetishised by Christian Dusun as a ‘container’ (Newell, Sasha. 2014. The Matter of the Unfetish: Hoarding and the Spirit of Possessions. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 4(3):185–213) of hope for their own Christian future.

Haynes, “The Benefit of the Doubt”

Haynes, Naomi. (2019) ‘The Benefit of the Doubt: On the Relationship Between Doubt and Power’. Anthropological Quarterly. 92(1): 35-57.

Abstract: Anthropological studies of doubt have typically highlighted its productivity, pointing to the space that doubt opens to question established frameworks. This article builds on these observations by exploring an instance of doubt that I argue is unproductive. For Pentecostals on the Zambian Copperbelt, the fact that they do not receive the extravagant riches promised by the prosperity gospel—a Christian movement that is central to their faith—is not usually a problem. Most Pentecostal believers are able to reinterpret small gains in terms of a locally redefined prosperity, and therefore manage the doubts that their lack of wealth produces. For the poorest and most socially marginal believers, however, this kind of productive engagement with doubt is not possible. The productivity of doubt is therefore more an expression of structural factors than of the nature of doubt itself. This suggests that doubt—or at least the ability to mobilize doubt effectively—is a key index of power. This article provides an ethnographic exploration of the failure of the prosperity gospel while also expanding anthropological understanding of what makes doubt productive.

Kapaló, “The Appearance of Saints”

Kapaló, James A. 2019. “The Appearance of Saints: Photographic Evidence and Religious Minorities in the Secret Police Archives in Eastern Europe.” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. 15(1): 82-109. 

Abstract: I present here examples of the photographic presence of a religious minority community in the secret police archives in ex-communist Eastern Europe. The use of secret police archives by researchers to trace the history of repression and collaboration and to understand the methods employed by totalitarian regimes to control their populations is well established. The significance of these archives for the study of material religion, however, has been largely overlooked by scholars. The secret police archives in Romania and the Republic of Moldova constitute a hidden repository of confiscated religious materials and photographs which often sit alongside photographic images created by the secret police in the course of their investigations into “criminal” religious activities. These archives, therefore, represent an important resource for understanding both how religious groups chose to represent themselves, and how the totalitarian system created images of religious “others” in order to incriminate them and to produce anti-religious propaganda. In this paper, through the presentation of example cases from state security files, I discuss the dual character of the photographic traces of communities in the archives as both religious justification and incrimination, and suggest ways of approaching these images through their materiality in the context of contemporary post-communist society.

Bielo, “Particles-to-People…Molecules-to-Man”

Bielo, James S. 2019. “‘Particles-to-People…Molecules-to-Man,’ Creationist Poetics in Public Debates.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 29(1): 4-26.

This article examines religious language in a contested public sphere by analyzing performances of linguistic creativity among creationists in the United States. The public creation‐evolution debate has been a central speech event in the development of modern creationism, and functions as a key site for claiming cultural legitimacy. Focusing on three creation‐evolution debates spanning 33 years, I advance the concept of “creationist poetics” to capture how framing, stance taking, and speech play define the performance repertoire of creationists in the debate context. In particular, I illustrate how creationist speakers work to create a conspiracy‐populist frame and a revealer stance. Together, these strategies sketch a lifeworld that envisions elitist “secular” actors suppressing scriptural authority and creationists as humble, clear‐eyed people exposing the conspiracy through scriptural fidelity. I argue that this system of poetics is a key expressive resource in the ongoing struggle to wrest authority away from evolutionary science and claim it for biblical fundamentalism. Ultimately, this analysis of creationist poetics informs our understanding of how authority as a contingent social process is discursively mediated, a central theme in the study of both religious and political language.